"Taking animals into space requires great planning. What will mice need on a Space Shuttle mission? Space mice have wire mesh cages so their toes can grip a rougher surface. This way, they won't be floating all of the time. Wood chips can't be used for bedding. They wouldn't stay in place. Gravity-fed water bottles won't work, so pressurized water containers are needed instead. Food bars are provided for the animals. A special waste containment system is used to clean cages."
- Laura Lewis, Johnson Space Center Animal Care and Use Committee
On August 31, 1950, the United States launched a mouse into space aboard a Vergeltungswaffe 2, or a V-2 rocket. An Aerobee rocket carried two more mice, Mildred and Albert (one of the few recorded instances of the test mice being named) in 1952, to test the effects of acceleration, weightlessness and deceleration.
Many more lab genus Mus rodentia followed throughout the 1950s, some of which were video-recorded inside their pressurized capsules.
The Soviet Union in the Vostok 3A flights of 1961 launched mice, as did China in 1964-65 in their T-7A launch vehicles. Apollo 17 carried five pocket mice to the moon in 1972 (although one died on the circumlunar trip), and Skylab 3 also carried pocket mice. During the 1990s and our current decade, many different species of mice have been flown on Shuttle missions and ISS expeditions -- too many to count in a blog post (especially since they were rarely given names!), so perhaps I'll put together a timeline elsewhere on the domain.
Mice, more so than any other animals, appear to adapt extraordinarily quickly to micro-gravity. Within only a few minutes, they orient themselves and float calmly in their living spaces, eating and sniffing and grooming themselves, just as they would in normal gravity.
In February 2010, Iran became the latest nation to launch mice (as well as worms and turtles aboard a Kavoshgar 3 rocket) into space and return them alive to Earth.
Nicole Stott on the ISS with the Mice Drawer System (MDS)
Given their size, how much can we actually learn from these tiny mammals ? You'd be surprised… I continually am!
Even just a short browsing scan of past NASA rodent research, and the scope of the current Mice Drawer System (MDS) of the Italian Space Agency, show incredible amounts of information yielded in terms of bone mass, tissue and molecular studies; skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune system comparisons; knowledge gained in spaceflight for particular changes in endocrine, cardiopulmonary and circadian systems, and applicable evidence for how to better cope with muscle atrophying conditions, such as those caused by immobility, cancer, diabetes and renal failure.
The "Mouse Hotel" alone will continue to have a huge medical impact, as noted in their goals for "Space Applications" and "Earth Applications."
We owe a great deal to these little rodents – for if they had not fared so well on the first flights in the 1950s, nothing larger would have followed them!