- NASA shared a video of mice learning how to move in microgravity on a space station.
- The images are part of a study to understand how space affects astronauts on longer missions.
- The mice continued eating, grooming, and cuddling, but adapted these behaviors to the weightless environment.
- Some began running in circles around their cage, a behavior NASA described as “race-tracking.”
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NASA published a video showing mice mastering how to move in the weightlessness environment of the International Space Station on Tuesday.
Scientists have been observing mice in space since 2014 to better understand how astronauts might be affected when they spend longer periods of time in the so-called microgravity environment, NASA said in its report.
As the agency prepares to send astronauts on lengthy journeys to the Moon or Mars, it is testing conditions on rodents, because they have similar body systems to humans.
In the latest study, researchers filmed the mice in microgravity for 37 days, and compared the recording to mice’s behavior on Earth. In terms of a mouse’s lifespan, this is considered a longterm mission.
The images showed that the rodents continued eating, grooming, cuddling, and exploring just as they would on Earth.
The only difference was that they adapted these behaviors to a weightless environment. Instead of standing on their back legs to explore their surroundings, for example, they held on to the cage walls with their hind limbs or tails.
Some of the younger mice in the study developed a new behavior described as “race-tracking,” where they ran laps around the cage, according to NASA.
Scientists are still researching why they started this new activity – a possible reason could be that they were trying to stimulate their balance system which they barely need in microgravity.
The mice on this mission were the first to be put in a habitat called the Rodent Hardware System, which allowed them grab things and run.
Allowing the rodents to move around the same way an astronaut would is important because it allows NASA to examine the effects of microgravity on bone loss, for example, NASA said.
April Ronca, a NASA researcher and lead author in the study, said even just observing their behavior can be useful.
“Behavior is a remarkable representation of the biology of the whole organism,” she said in the report.”It informs us about overall health and brain function.”
The space mice finished the study in good health, weighing about the same as their Earth-based counterparts, NASA said.