There are a number of questions that remain about how long-term space travel affects the human body. One of the most critical parts of the human body is the cardiovascular system, and we don’t fully understand how long-term space affects this system.
To find out, scientists are preparing to send a large batch of fruit flies and their eggs to the International Space Station, where they will be subjected to the conditions of the space for long period of time. In terms of numbers, it’s estimated some 400 fruit flies and 2,000 eggs will be shipped; the latter will hatch and fully develop while in orbit.
Why fruit flies? Well, as it turns out, their heart pumps blood at about the same speed as a human’s does. This means there’s a lot of potential to see if space eventually speeds up or slows down their hearts. We can also learn more about how the long-term space travel affects heart muscle.
In addition to the fruit flies, about 40 lab rats will be joining the ISS astronauts for a completely separate, but related, health experiment. While researchers will study the fruit flies for cardiovascular abnormalities, they’ll focus more on bone abnormalities in the rodents, which can happen when subjected to microgravity for too long.
Since the health of our astronauts is so important, these insect and rodent test subjects will help us learn about the most dangerous health risks that are imposed on astronauts and help space agencies to compensate for them with medications or procedures as necessary. Advancements in technology may also be possible.
These flies and rats were expected to launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was carrying a previously-used Dragon cargo capsule and was scheduled for launch on Thursday. It was supposed to be the date of the first commercially-reused space cargo ship. Weather conditions, however, started to become unfavorable closer to the launch expectancy, so the nearly 6,000 pounds of supplies were delayed.
The next open window for launching the rocket is Saturday at 5:07 P.M. EDT, and if successful, not only will the International Space Station staff have fresh food and brand-new supplies, but they’ll also get new science experiments to keep them busy for a little while longer.
For what it’s worth, this wouldn’t be the first time that fruit flies or rats have been sent to the International Space Station. Previously, we learned about both bone and heart abnormalities. It’s hoped that we might be able to extend our research into what exactly is going on with this batch of fruit flies to better prepare for future long-term space missions, such as those to Mars.
It ought to be interesting to see what becomes of the health research and how it could benefit mankind as we yearn to explore other planets in the Solar System.
Source: New York Times