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rocket carrying lab mice to International Space Station blasting off
Research Models
Mary Parker

Mouse Models Blast Off

Forty mice will be part of an experiment onboard the International Space Station

At 4:46 pm EST on April 17, Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket took off on schedule from NASA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. The rocket was carrying supplies for the astronauts, scientific equipment, and 40 lab mice that were cared for on Earth by a team of Charles River Insourcing Solutions division employees.

NASA’s Rodent Habitat module for lab mice on space missions
NASA’s Rodent Habitat module with both access doors open. The hand in the photo belongs to Charles River’s own Karen Oehrli. (Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart)

“The mice have to be in top condition to be selected to go into space,” said Karen Oehrli, Director of Operations for Charles River’s Insourcing Solutions. “Mice holding steady weights in a select weight range and no health issues over a period of weeks are candidates for launch.”

These furry flyers will be divided into four groups of ten and housed in two specially designed habitats. The mice are mirrored on Earth with two ground control groups – one that will live in the same type of container as those in space, and another group in a traditional vivarium.

“The team provides husbandry and health observations for the animals on Earth as well as Veterinary oversight on a GMT time schedule. The team had many before 5 a.m. early morning arrivals to complete husbandry before lights cycled off at 1 p.m. daily.” said Oehrli. Her team is also responsible for basic technical support. With great precision, they completed ground operations data measurements collection and kit preparation for the experiment ground controls.

Charles River RR12 mission team members at NASA's Kennedy Space Center
Congrats to the CR IS team members completing the RR12 mission: Karen Oehrli, Diana Bedoya, Terri Frost, Alisha Holley, Christina Mahesse, Henry Sarau, and Rebecca Thompson.

While in orbit, the mice will be cared for by the scientists aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and health observations for ground controls will be conducted by video feed with CR IS staff at Kennedy Space Center at the video review console in addition to husbandry care for the vivarium controls using strict sterile technique.

The container setup for the lab mice has been used for several experiments since 2014. Researchers have started conducting more biology experiments on model organisms in order to prepare for possible long-term human space flights. NASA is hoping to send more manned missions to the Moon, and possibly beyond to Mars, so these experiments are crucial to learn about the biological effects of long-term space travel.

Data and video from previous experiments were released by NASA on April 11. Their findings from a previous experiment showed that mice living in microgravity returned to Earth in very good condition, with shiny coats and in a good weight bracket.

Other experiments sent up in Antares include two robot systems, a prototype air scrubber, and a fiber-optic cable manufacturing system. Additional information on the RR12 mission can be found on NASA’s website.

The next CR team mission, Rodent Research-17, begins later this month and another mission is scheduled to begin in December. Also, check out this video showing how animals adapt to microgravity. The study is designed to help us understand how basic biology works in space, which will help astronauts adapt and thrive during long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.