Typical mouse cage. Double density means there will be double the mice in the cage (increased from five to 10).
One of the most interesting aspects of our space experiments is the act of getting the mice into space itself! It is extremely difficult putting any amount of weight in space, so minimizing the matter we send up is critical to the success of our experiment. One of the ways our weight has been minimized is by how our mice are housed.
During launch and until they reach the space station, our mice are housed at double density. This helps keep the cage weight down by about half and also takes up less area, both of which are critical in a launching scenario.
This is not quite as easy as it sounds, especially for male mice. Male mice, in particular, are more aggressive, and reducing their living space is a stressful event for mice. Coupled with the fact that they are being launched into space, these factors could lead to aggressive behaviors from our mice. Whether or not this is the case is a question we hope to answer with our ground testing scheduled for August 2015 at the NASA Ames Research Center.
There are several benefits that come from being able to house our male mice at double the density. First and foremost, we are able to put significantly more mice into spaceflight. This brings statistical significance to draw scientific conclusions, but it also gives us more leeway if a mouse were to have complications associated with launching. For example, if we could only fly 10 mice into space, and one of the mice had a complication, only 10 percent of our experiment would be compromised!
Not only that, but double density housing brings the possibility of male-female mice comparison studies that are completed in space. Males and females have very different biological processes, so a study completed with only female mice could be missing crucial aspects of male physiology that would alter the scientific conclusions.
At the moment, male mice haven’t been successfully co-housed in space flight, but we are hoping to change that with our studies!
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