Saturday, 3 December 2011

Liquid-living worms survive space

Worms have survived their first space mission in liquid form.

The result, published in a Royal Society journal, means worm colonies can be established on space stations without the need for researchers to tend to them.

The animals are helping scientists understand the effects of weightlessness and high radiation levels experienced in space.

Lessons learned could one day assist humans to explore the Solar System.

In 2001, Stephen Hawking is reported to have said: "I don't think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars."

But space is no easy amble. Humans must first learn to cheaply and safely propel themselves into space regularly, and then, once there, must adapt to high levels of radiation and to weightlessness.

In preparation for longer spaceflight, scientists have designed shields to deflect harmful energetic particles, and continue to study the ill-effect of weightlessness on astronauts.

The gravity studies have mostly focused on a group of muscles - broadly known as anti-gravity muscles - that seem to deteriorate without the gravitational pull of the Earth. However, there is some evidence for the weakening in all muscles, including the hearts of astronauts.

Weightlessness not only sees animals use their muscles less, but causes changes in the chemical reactions within the muscle cells, explained Nathaniel Szewczyk from the University of Nottingham, who is the lead author on the new study in the journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Read more here ...

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