Humanity has dreamt about colonizing space for a very long time. And even though we’re on the right path, it will still take at least a couple of decades until we can realistically achieve something like that. Still, those in charge of preparing us for that momentous event are already setting things up for when we’re ready.
Of course, everything has to go just right, so we need a lot of time preparing for the unexpected and even for the expected. Even the simplest of actions can go wrong in space if not everything is perfectly accounted for. So, performing an experiment to see how it would go, Chinese scientists had mice embryos develop in space for the first time.
China’s SJ-10 satellite
Launched into space of the 6th of April, the SJ-100 Chinese satellite was packed full with a series of experiments. Except for the embryos about which we’re going to talk in a bit, the small bullet-shaped satellite also contained experiments related to microgravity combustion, microgravity fluid physics, space material, space biotechnology, and space radiation effects.
Aside from looking at how space radiation affects the genetic stability of rat cells and fruit flies, the Chinese team will also test how materials generally used in spacecrafts burn in space so that they can come up with better protection. Of course, the most important experiment was the one involving the mouse embryos.
The satellite will attempt landing sometime next week in a designated spot in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia, somewhat late considering its reported 15-day life span. In case of the landing going wrong, a team will lead four helicopters to help ground vehicles search for the spacecraft after it lands.
Mammal embryos in space
Now that we have the technical specs out of the way, let’s talk about mouse embryos. About 6,000 were sent up in the satellite inside an enclosed, self-sufficient chamber the size of a microwave oven, and about 600 of them had a high-resolution camera aimed directly at them.
Of course, support systems inside were installed in order to provide the embryos with the necessary nutrients for proper development, and the cameras took footage of them every four hours. The team was impressed to see the experiment succeed, with the initial two-cell embryos developing into fully grown blastocysts over the course of eighty hours in space.
This is the first time that a mammal embryo was shown to be able to develop normally in space, making this a very significant breakthrough in the field. Of course, the embryos will be further analyzed upon their return to Earth, and if the scientists manage to get their way and the blastocysts survive the landing, they will even implant some into female rats, having them give birth to the first animals basically conceived in space.
Image source: Wikimedia