So some little white mice have returned from their holidays.  They were on the ISS, orbiting around the Earth, and they’ve been there for 91 days.

It’s the longest space travel of any mammal apart from us, and scientists are keen to see what they can learn from them.  So far, they’ve got this:

1) Thyroids with equally sized follicles and higher activity in old age.  The lack of thyroid activity can cause impaired cognition and weight gain, so if we can replicate this on Earth it could be useful.

2) Radiation protection could be better understood soon, thanks to the increased “TBARS” in the mice’s cells.  I’m not going to pretend to understand the science behind that one.

3) The poor boy mice had sperm counts 90% lower than normal.  They’re not sure if it was radiation or micro-gravity that did it.

4) Loss of muscle mass is a well-known problem of zero gravity environments.  It’s mentioned in practically every novel involving space flight that doesn’t have artificial gravity.  But studies on the mice show that it might stabilise after a while – these ones had lost the same amount of muscle as mice on shorter missions.

5) Some of the mice were genetically modified to produce an extra protein, and these mice didn’t lose much bone density – 3% compared to 40% for the non-modified mice.  Mind you, I don’t see astronauts agreeing to be genetically modified for a long time!

Final Thoughts

While I don’t agree with experimenting on animals, these are some interesting findings.  Some of them even have applications outside of space travel, which means that more than 6 people might benefit from them in the next hundred years.