As an orbiting laboratory, the International Space Station (ISS) offers researchers around the world the unique opportunity to perform experiments in microgravity and under the rigors of the space environment. Scientists have used the station for everything from testing technology for future space exploration to studying human health. Sometimes their work involves some pretty unusual experiments. Here are 12 cool ones.
1. Headless flatworms
On Earth, flatworms can regenerate their own cells, replacing them as they age or are damaged. Scientists cut the heads or tails off of flatworms and sent them to the station in September 2014 to study whether the cell signaling mechanisms behind this regeneration work the same way in space as they do on Earth. The results should provide insight into how gravity affects tissue regeneration and the rebuilding of damaged organs and nerves, which is important for understanding how wounds heal—both in space and on the ground.
2. Space mice
For humans to explore deep space or live on other planets, we must learn how to deal with the effects of long-term exposure to potent space radiation, which can cause cancer and gene mutations, affecting subsequent generations. Lab mice are important tools for studying radiation effects, but currently, mice can’t go to the station. So instead, this investigation will send frozen mouse embryos for a ride in space and implant them into surrogate mothers on their return to Earth. Scientists will use these space mice to study longevity, cancer development, and gene mutations.