ISS Rodent Habitat
One of the highlighted Expedition 41/42 experiments is a new Rodent Habitat to be deployed aboard ISS. Space Shuttle missions flew these habitats on a regular basis to examine changes in mice and rats during short duration flights, but no such facility existed for ISS to conduct studies on a longer time scale of up to a month or more. To comply with ISS standards for both, operations and safety, the Rodent Habitat used on the Shuttle had to be modified.
Each Rodent Habitat can support up to ten mice or six rats providing sufficient room for the animals. Grids on the internal panels of the habitat can be used by the animals to hold onto while waste and air can pass through the grid. The habitat consists of two sides, five animals can be facilitated on each side.
The remaining eight mice are euthanized and preserved (formalin, ethanol or MELFI) for return to Earth to be weighed in order to ensure the mice have not lost weight over the course of their stay aboard the Rodent Habitat which will confirm that the supply of water and food was sufficient.
The Rodent Research-1 study has the objective of testing the capabilities of the new habitat as part of the one-month mission. Furthermore, the experiment will point to any deficiencies in operational protocols and equipment as all required operations for science experiments are performed including euthanization, dissection, tissue preservation via fixation and stowage in MELFI. Additionally, the Bone Densitometer will be tested in operational conditions.
Future studies performed with the habitat will provide valuable information for human spaceflight and lead to discoveries in basic biology. Changes that are being looked at include bone loss, muscle loss, immune system changes, cardiovascular changes, nervous system changes, reproductive and sensorimotor changes. The goal of the studies will be to discover what cellular, genetic and molecular mechanisms are responsible for these changes.
Future rodent research will provide valuable information about changes that occur in the body that are directly relevant to humans in space and associated countermeasure development. Also, results will be valuable for human aging and disease research. Some of the changes that are observed in space can help in the development of new drugs to treat diseases on Earth.