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Mice in Space – Not an Easy Task



We mentioned before how different our experiment would look on the space station, but we had no idea just how difficult that would be!

Even the act of getting the mouse out of the cage is very different from how we would do it on Earth. On Earth, we place standard gloves on our hands (the kind you would find at a doctors office), which let you retain flexibility and manual manipulation while giving you some protection from the mouse and protecting the mouse from our germs. When we were at NASA Ames, we discovered the astronauts were using heavy duty police gloves! These gloves are thick, so you can barely feel anything in them, so I can only imagine how hard it could be to grab a small mouse!

An added wrinkle to the process: you can’t see the mice. The cage in which the mice are housed is not visible when the astronaut attempts to grab the mouse. So not only can you barely feel anything, you can’t see anything either!

Once you’ve managed to grab a mouse, a task that is no small feat, you have to manipulate a Velcro box so you can transfer the mouse. This was difficult for me to accomplish with one bare hand with normal gravity here on Earth (see photo). On the International Space Station this will be done using police gloves while floating around, and with a mouse squirming around in one hand.

We knew that an experiment in space would be more challenging, but until I had to try it myself I had no idea how challenging the smallest of details would become! No wonder why it will take 2 astronauts about 12.5 hours to move our 40 mice from the Transporter (the hardware they will be in while they are on the SpaceX rocket) to the Habitat (where they will live while on the International Space Station) whereas the same task on Earth would take one person no more than 30 minutes.

Written by: Jeff


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carl Pinkham