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Ames-Based International Space Station Rodent Research Project Launches
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Ames-Based International Space Station Rodent Research Project Launches

SpaceX CRS-4, the fourth SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), launched Saturday, September 21, 2014, carrying three Ames-based bioscience research projects, including the validation flight of the Rodent Research (RR) project. The Rodent Research project will study the long-term effects of microgravity on rodents.

Twenty mice are now onboard the ISS, housed in two habitats for the 30-day mission. Half of the mice are for the NASA validation of the RR hardware, software, and procedures. The remaining mice are part of a muscle-wasting experiment by the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Identical control groups are housed at Kennedy Space Center’s Animal Care Facility.

Habitat and environmental parameters are monitored at the ISS Operations Center (ISOC) of the Multi-Mission Operations Center (MMOC) at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC). Using cameras inside the rodent habitat, scientists will also monitor the health and behavior of both groups of rodents.

RR Payload Ground System (PGS) software was developed jointly by Codes TI and S. The primary PGS monitoring and control software is based on existing RR flight application software used onboard the ISS, which has been configured for ground operations. Science and engineering data are displayed on ground workstations in the same way they are displayed in the payload application running on the onboard EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments for Space Station (EXPRESS) Laptop Computer (ELC). Mission Control Technologies (MCT), a modular, user-composable integrated software environment developed by Code TI for monitoring ISS telemetry, is being used to track and trend both realtime and archived data.

The second ISS Rodent Research flight, with 40 mice and a duration of 60 days, is planned for next spring. Later experiments will last up to six months. Other Ames science payloads on CRS-4 include a study of plant seedling growth and a student-designed fruit fly experiment.

BACKGROUND: The 2011 National Research Council (NRC) Life and Physical Sciences Decadal Survey strongly stated the importance of continuing animal research on the ISS, and identified rodent research as a critical need as NASA prepares for longer crewed space missions beyond low earth orbit:

“It is essential that single and repeated long-duration in-flight animal experiments be conducted. This can best be accomplished by having NASA make available as soon as possible four advanced animal habitats with the capability of accommodating 8-10 mice or 4-5 rats per habitat ... ”

With their relatively short lifespan, mice and rats are valuable subjects for studying bone-mass loss, muscle atrophy, and other effects of microgravity on the body. NASA performed such experiments during 27 Space Shuttle missions, and mice have been on the ISS before, but the new enhanced habitats will enable much longer studies.

The Rodent Research (RR) project provides the capability to perform animal biology research on the ISS to:

  • Determine the effects of long-term spaceflight
  • Evaluate recovery and consequences from long-term spaceflight
  • Help develop countermeasures for adverse effects from spaceflight

The scientific knowledge to be gained from this research includes:

  • A better understanding of how gravity affects mammalian systems
  • An enhanced understanding of fundamental physiological, cellular, and molecular mechanisms
  • Better defined risks to astronaut health and mission success

TEAM: Mitchell Ai-Chang, Dan Berrios, Sue Blumenberg, Anthony Chan, Matthew Everingham, Masoud Mansouri-Samani, and Helen Stewart (PGS Lead)

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: International Space Station Program, Johnson Space Center

Contact: Helen Stewart

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