A rocket carrying thousands of worms is scheduled to launch into space on 5 December, in a mission to understand why astronauts lose some of their muscle mass during spaceflight.
Astronauts can lose up to 40% of their muscle after six months in space, which can affect their ability to work on a long space mission.
The tiny worms, which can only be seen under a microscope, are known as C. elegans and share some of the essential biological characteristics of a human.
The team of scientists from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster Universities involved in this project hope to discover more about muscle loss in space, which in turn could lead to developing effective therapies and new treatments for muscular dystrophies. The research could also help boost our understanding about ageing muscle loss and even help improve treatments for diabetes.
The worms’ journey to the International Space Station – in orbit around earth between 205 and 270 miles away – will begin at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, US. The worms will reproduce in space and after growing to adults, in around 6.5 days, they will be frozen until return to Earth.
The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council, as well as the European Space Agency, UK Space Agency and Arthritis Research UK.
Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC, says: “We are all very excited to be supporting the innovative research that forms the first UK experiment to take place on the International Space Station. Sending worms into space sounds wonderfully futuristic but this is real research that could help provide new solutions to health problems being faced here on earth. We will all be watching the launch with excitement and wish the team every success with the experiment.”
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is due to launch from NASA Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 5 December at 6.15pm.