You must be squidding me! NASA reveals plans to send glow-in-the-dark SQUIDS to the International Space Station next week

  • Tiny glow-in-the-dark squids to be sent to International Space Station next week
  • Part of scientific research tasked with finding ways of bettering the human body
  • Hope is it could help preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions
  • Tardigrades also among the payload on SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission

NASA is to launch glow-in-the-dark squids into space next week as part of a variety of scientific experiments heading for the International Space Station (ISS).

The hope is that studying the impact of spaceflight on the tiny squids could help preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.

Also included in SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the ISS on June 3 are tardigrades – microscopic water-dwelling animals capable of surviving harsh environments on both Earth and in space. 

All of the payload’s scientific research is tasked with discovering new ways of bettering the human body for both astronauts in space and those here on Earth.

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Off to space: NASA is to send glow-in-the-dark squids to the International Space Station next week as part of scientific research tasked with finding new ways of bettering the human body

WHAT EXPERIMENTS ARE SPACEX SENDING TO THE ISS? 

Squid: Determining whether spaceflight alters the mutually beneficial relationship between microbes and their animal hosts.

This could support development of protective measures and mitigation to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.

Tardigrades: Identify gene that helps them survive harsh conditions. 

Scientists hope this gene could be used to better protect astronauts.

Cotton: Define which environmental factors and genes control root development in the absence of gravity.

The findings could help uncover agriculture methods for plants amid climate change. 

Tissue chips: Understanding how kidney stones form in microgravity.

This experiment aims to not only help astronauts, but also those suffering with kidney stones on Earth.  

Ultrasound: A portable ultrasound will be tested in microgravity to collect crew feedback.

This device could be used by astronauts going to Mars who are in need of medical attention.

The payload is set to launch on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than June 3. 

NASA explained: ‘SpaceX is targeting 1:29 pm EDT [18:29 BST], Thursday, June 3, to launch its 22nd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. 

‘Liftoff will be from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.’ 

Alongside the squid and tardigrades, the payload will also include cotton and tissue chips to help researchers better understand how microgravity impacts plant resilience and the formation of kidney stones, respectively.

Astronauts aboard the ISS will examine the effects of spaceflight on the molecular and chemical interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.

The bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, is an animal model that scientists use to study symbiotic relationships between two species.

This investigation is tasked with determining whether spaceflight alters the mutually beneficial relationship, which could support development of protective measures and mitigation to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.

Scientists hope this experiment will uncover the complex interactions between animals and beneficial microbes, including new and novel pathways that microbes use to communicate with animal tissues.

Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions (UMAMI) principal investigator Jamie Foster said: ‘Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system.

‘We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions. The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health.’ 

Members aboard the space station will study the tardigrades, also known as water bears, with the hopes of identifying specific genes involved in their adaptation and survival in high stress environments. 

Tardigrades have proven to be virtually impossible to kill – they can be frozen, boiled, crushed and even zapped with radiation but still survive. 

Such powerful abilities caught the attention of NASA, which hopes to pinpoint genes that protect it from harsh environments with the hopes of better protecting astronauts from the stressors of space. 

Tiny water bears: NASA hopes to pinpoint genes of Tardigrades that protect it from harsh environments with the aim of better protecting astronauts from the stressors of space

Principal investigator Thomas Boothby said: ‘Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth.

‘One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts.’

The experiment will analyse a previously known genome of the tardigrade, with the goal of identifying genes that are required for adaptation and survival in high stress environments.

Scientific tests: Also along for the ride to the orbiting laboratory is a portable ultrasound, called Butterfly IQ Ultrasound, which will be analysed to see how it operates in microgravity

‘The findings from this study can be applied to understanding the stress factors of humans in the space environment, and identification of countermeasures,’ NASA said in a statement.

Also along for the ride to the orbiting laboratory is a portable ultrasound, called Butterfly IQ Ultrasound, which will be studied to see how it operates in microgravity.

The experiment collects crew feedback on ease of handling and quality of the ultrasound images, including image acquisition, display and storage. 

Testing of the ultrasound could be vital for missions to Mars, as astronauts will not have traditional medical devices in the event of an emergency. 

The final experiment in the payload will study cotton, which has a gene that allows it to thrive in droughts and other stressful conditions

Meanwhile, kidney stones, often painful and debilitating, have long been a serious concern for astronauts, who have reported them more than 30 times post-flight.

To better understand what causes their formation, scientists are sending the ISS crew tissue chips that make up a 3D kidney cell model, which will monitored for changes while in microgravity.

The final experiment in the payload will study cotton, which has a gene that allows it to thrive in droughts and other stressful conditions. 

Improved understanding of cotton root systems and associated gene expression could enable development of more robust cotton plants and reduce water and pesticide use. 

EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH

The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000. 

Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.

Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.

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