SpaceX has delivered the unusual supplies, as well as Christmas gifts, to the International Space Station for scientific research.
A nest of muscle-bound mice, a sensitive robot and 120,000 “beneficial” roundworms have arrived at the International Space Station.
The assortment was delivered to station commander Luca Parmitano on Sunday as part of a three-tonne SpaceX shipment of “science, supplies and hardware”, including Christmas treats for its six crew members.
Forty mice – all adolescent females with black fur – will be used for a muscle and bone experiment in space, NASA said – with eight of these deemed “mighty mice”, genetically engineered to have twice the normal muscle mass.
.@Astro_Luca shares a congratulatory message after he and @AstroDrewMorgan caught the @SpaceX #Dragon at 5:05am ET today with the @CSA_ASC Canadarm2 robotic arm. Read more… https://t.co/99GpYE9gpQ pic.twitter.com/Bmusbyo2xl
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 8, 2019
The Rodent Research-19 project will examine muscle and bone loss in space – a serious health issue for astronauts – and look at aiding recovery following return to Earth.
It could also support the development of therapies “for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss on Earth”, NASA has said.
The roundworms – parasites which can infest the human gut – are “of a beneficial variety” and are part of an agricultural study.
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule also delivered a robot head with artificial intelligence, which is sensitive to the astronauts’ emotions. Named Cimon, it is said to be an improved version of a previous robot which was tested as a helper to crew members in 2018.
Other supplies include spacewalk equipment, vehicle hardware, computer resources and a miniature version of a brewery’s malt house.
Identifying “morphological and genetic alterations caused by microgravity may help improve use of barley malt for a variety of terrestrial uses, such as in bread and beer,” NASA said.
A large robot arm was used to grab hold of the Dragon capsule three days after its launch from Cape Canaveral, in Florida, about 260 miles (420km) above the South Pacific at the time of capture.
“Whenever we welcome a new vehicle on board, we take on board also a little bit of the soul of everybody that contributed to the project, so welcome on board,” Parmitano told Mission Control.
This is SpaceX’s 19th delivery to the space station for NASA in the past seven years.
The astronauts have another delivery, which was launched by Russia from Kazakhstan on Friday, expected on Monday.