The U.S. space agency NASA said cargo on the latest supply ship headed for the International Space Station (ISS) includes newly hatched squid to be used in experiments examining the effects of space flight on microorganisms.
NASA said the SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft that blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday - along with the squid, is carrying more than 3,300 kilograms of science experiments, new solar arrays, and other cargo.
The hatchlings are bobtail squid and they are part of a project called Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions (UMAMI), which examines the effects of spaceflight on the molecular and chemical interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.
Gravity’s role in shaping those interactions is not well understood and microgravity provides the opportunity to improve that understanding.
At a NASA news briefing earlier this week, University of Florida microbiologist Jamie Foster told reporters all people and animals have beneficial microbes that help our bodies perform basic functions, like in the digestive or immune systems, and are essential to human health.
She said astronauts working in space frequently find their immune systems can become compromised or dysregulated – a potentially dangerous situation when you can't go to a doctor immediately or you can't get help.
Foster says squid have similar immune systems to humans, but they are simpler organisms and therefore, are easier to study. She said the study could provide valuable insight into how extended spaceflight impacts astronauts' bodies, and how to address it.
The Dragon supply ship is expected to rendezvous with the ISS early Saturday, eastern U.S. time.