WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- SpaceX has successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, carrying supply to the International Space Station.
- The Falcon 9, which is also carrying 36,000 worms, is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Saturday.
- The astronauts will conduct experiments on the worms to understand “the precise molecular mechanisms” that are contributing to the loss of muscle that astronauts experience in space.
On Wednesday, SpaceX launched Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral for a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Although the event was marred by a missed landing of the booster’s first stage, the launch was still a success.
The Falcon 9 is expected to arrive at the ISS on Saturday.
Aside from the supplies, the rocket also carries thousands of worms, about 36,000 of transparent worms, or nematodes. The astronauts will study how those worms’ muscles work in zero gravity.
Teams from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster universities are hoping the microscopic worms could lead to new treatments for muscular dystrophy, according to BBC.
“The Molecular Muscle Experiment” aims to “understand the causes of neuromuscular decline in space”.
American Anne McClain, who studied at Bath and Bristol universities, and Canadian David Saint-Jacques, who studied at Cambridge University, were the new astronauts who will be conducting experiments on the worms. They launched in a Russian Soyuz on Monday from Kazakhstan.
According to the University of Exeter, the worms share many biological characteristics with humans, including “alterations to muscle and the ability to use energy”.
“Astronauts lose muscle mass in space…and this really impairs their mobility when they’re back on earth,” research fellow Colleen Deane said.
“What we’re trying to do with these worms is to try to understand the precise molecular mechanisms that are contributing to that loss of muscle.
“It goes further than that because as you age, you lose muscle mass as well, so we can hopefully translate these findings into other populations such as aging,” she added.
The astronauts are also doing other experiments, about 250 of them, including one which involves a new kind of mustard green lettuce that will be grown in space.
The mission was actually delayed for 24 hours after discovering moldy food in a team’s capsule within the rocket. There were concerns that the worms could have grown to be too old after the delay because nematodes have a lifespan of about two weeks.
Wednesday’s launch is SpaceX’s 16th mission for NASA as part of a long-term contract to ferry supplies to space.