What is the most drastic difference between life on earth and on space?
Outside the gravitational pulls of earth, all living organisms experience weightlessness. Feeling no effects of gravity and being weightless may seem like a fun aspect of living in space. But the truth is weightlessness for a prolonged duration can have serious deleterious effects on the human body. These harmful effects include loss of muscle mass and osteoporosis. Living in space for as little as 10 days can result in a decrease of 20% in muscle mass.
These are simply the known effects of low levels of gravity, also known as microgravity. In fact, there are many more other effects of gravity that have not yet been studied. Therefore, new research is underway to study the mysterious effects of microgravity on animals and how it affects their aging process.
To research and understand the effects of microgravity, the International Space Station (ISS) has agreed to host a group of mice to examine the effects of microgravity on their aging. The goal of the experiment, called Rodent Research-8, is to analyze the physiological changes that occur in animals after spending considerable time in an environment with microgravity.
“The objective is to expose the mice to microgravity and track physiological changes,” stated Michael S. Roberts, deputy chief scientist at the U.S. National Laboratory.
First group: Young mice between 10 and 16 weeks old
Second group: Older mice between 30 and 52 weeks old
Duration in International Space Station:
30 – 60 days
Evaluate the activity of each group of mice and determine if either of the groups undergoes acceleration in the aging process. The study correlates activity to age in order to evaluate the aging process.
The significance of the research:
The effects of microgravity on the body can result in osteoporosis, cardiovascular dysfunction, immune disorders, skeletal muscles loss, and reduced strength. These processes are normal parts of aging but microgravity seems to accelerate this process rapidly.
“We are trying to get down to the molecular basis for what is happening. To use mice or other organisms as models for studying humans, we need to understand whether the effects of space exposure have the same causes and outcomes as conditions in humans on Earth. We want to see if the same things happen in mice and whether the rate of change is affected by the age of the mouse at exposure.” said Roberts.
This research has valuable implications as it can allow astronauts to prolong their stay in space by effectively finding a method to prevent the effects of microgravity. In order to prevent the adverse effects of microgravity, it is essential to first understand the underlying physiology behind the accelerated aging seen in space. Not only can it help astronauts in space, but it may also aid in researching effective methods to slow the aging process.