NASA has developed high-tech cages to carry rodents to the International Space Station (ISS) from Earth. The rodents carried by the cages will allow the researchers to study the long-term effects of microgravity on mammalian physiology.
The first flight of the Rodent Habitat modules will be carried out in August 2014 aboard an unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.
The high-tech cages have been developed by NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California and the new habitats are designed to transport the animals to space station as part of their long-term accommodation.
The design of the transport module can fit into the racks in the pressurised cargo section of the Dragon spacecraft. It has an access module for moving the rodents from the transporter to the station’s rodent habitat without having the mice escape and take up residence behind the control panels. Every habitat module provides as many as 10 mice or six rats with all of the basics like water, food, fresh air and lighting needed by them to live comfortably aboard the station.
The habitat modules include data downlink capability that enables monitoring of environmental conditions such as temperature. The crew in space and scientists and veterinarians on the ground will be able to monitor behavior and overall health of the rodents on a daily basis through the visible light and infrared video system.
Overall, these rodents will help in studying the genetic strains of rodents and roles played by specific genes in gravity sensing and responses.