A newly released video from NASA shows the humans aren’t the only ones who get a kick out of weightlessness, mice in microgravity can frolic with the best of us.
Mice in Microgravity Are Adorable
As part of their research into how biological systems adapt to microgravity, NASA sent a bunch of mice up to the ISS and set up a special habitat module for them and recorded how well they took to the experience of weightlessness. Needless to say, watching mice get their space-legs turned out to be about as cute as you’d expect.
The video shows that after an initial couple of days adjusting to the experience of weightlessness, the mice quickly adapted and exhibited all the same mouse-like behaviors they do here on Earth.
“Behavior is a remarkable representation of the biology of the whole organism,” said April Ronca, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and lead author of the paper, published in Scientific Reports on April 11. "It informs us about overall health and brain function."
Mice Demonstrated Typical Behavior—and One New Activity
Conducted over a 37-day stretch, considered a long-duration mission in terms of a rodent’s lifespan, the mice quickly adapted to their microgravity environment and performed all the normal behaviors that their terrestrial sisters—all the mice were females with ages ranging from young to old.
They groomed themselves, socialized, ate food, and huddled together just as they would normally on Earth. Upon their return to Earth, their weight hadn’t changed much and their coats were considered to be in excellent health, a proxy for the health of the mouse overall.
The mice adapted to their habitat and developed some new moves in microgravity that mimicked other behaviors seen on Earth, such as using their hind legs or tails to secure themselves while extending their bodies to explore, comparable to them standing upright on their hind legs to look around their surroundings.
Most noticeably though, the mice began to “run laps” around the sides cage and even began running them as a group.
Obviously, this is impossible on Earth thanks to gravity keeping them on the ground, but scientists couldn’t think of a corresponding behavior it could be tied to; it seemed to be a genuinely new behavior. There could be a number of reasons for this new behavior, including stress, stimulating their body’s balance system—since this would be absent in microgravity—, or possibly just because they found the practice rewarding exercise. They certainly look like they’re having fun, and considering that they behaved normally otherwise and returned to Earth in excellent health, scientists have more or less ruled out stress—so don’t worry, you can enjoy watching mice in microgravity without guilt.