But they won’t sneak inside for the ride, they will taken along on purpose. These are fruit flies, which are valued for medical experiments because they reproduce so quickly. Scientists want to see how they are affected by space travel, because they’re worried that long periods in space may depress astronauts’ immune systems. For long visits to the ISS in the future, as well as the colonizing of the moon or Mars, this is something we need to know about.

Astronauts on the shuttle Discovery launch that was due to take off on July 1st (as of this writing, it has been delayed due to the weather) will bring along thousands of fruit flies. Fruit flies were also the first animals to fly in space. This was done in 1946, to test the effects of radiation, since the radiation of space increases the risk of cancer in astronauts. Other creatures sent into space have been dogs, mice, cats, beetles, spiders, seeds, ants, fish, chimps, moss, newts, frogs, bacteria and chicken embryos.

In LiveScience.com, Robin Lloyd explains that NASA will send one batch of adult fruit flies and another of embryonic flies, that will grow into mature adults by the time the shuttle lands at the end of twelve days. They will also take along a special kind of fungus.

Genetically identical groups of fruit flies will remain here on earth, so the two groups of flies can be compared. After that is done, the flies that stayed at home will be exposed to the fungus that went into space. Believe it or not, fruit fly and human genetics are similar enough for scientists to use this method to learn a lot about how space travel will affect human astronauts.

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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