Italian mice head for International Space Station
Italian researchers are planning to send mice into space as part of an experiment to pave the way for the first manned trip to Mars, the University of Genoa said Wednesday.
Scientists from the university's Regenerative Medicine Laboratory and the Italian Space Agency are working on a project that will see mice travel by shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.
Once there, the mice will be involved in a series of experiments to explore the adverse conditions astronauts could meet during upcoming missions planned to take place outside the earth's atmosphere - in particular a mooted two-year mission to Mars.
Experts believe astronauts may face cardiovascular and skeletal problems during such missions, while straying outside the earth's atmosphere means they will no longer be protected from cosmic radiation.
The scientists in Genoa are currently working on a special cage, or Mouse Drawer System, with a controlled microclimate that will allow the mice to live, eat and drink normally in the absence of gravity.
NASA astronaut Janice Voss, who has participated in five space missions, is set to visit the laboratory on Thursday to discuss the project.
The first mouse went into space in 1948 on an unmanned United States flight and survived impact on the rocket's return to earth.