SpaceX Launched Human Muscle Cells Into Space. Here's Why

Inspired by the weakened muscles of astronauts.
Can Emir
The launch of SpacwX's Falcon 9 rocketNASA/Rick Wetherington, Tim Powers, and Tim Terry

As a part of the MicroAge study, which aims to understand what happens to human muscles as people age, SpaceX launched human muscle cells into space.

The MicroAge experiment was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 10 am (GMT) on December 21 and will return to Earth in January 2022 for further analysis, according to the university release. Academics in the U.K. can use the International Space Station (ISS) for research, thanks to the U.K.’s membership in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) exploration program. 

The lab-grown human muscle cells, which are the size of a grain of rice, were put into small 3D-printed holders. Once the muscle cells are in space they will be electrically stimulated to induce contraction in tissue, the U.K. Space Agency announced in a release.

The purpose of sending human tissue to space is that the researchers want to compare the similarities and differences of muscle tissues in the lack of gravity in space versus on Earth, as astronauts’ muscles become weaker just like aging, to help determine why human muscles become weaker as they get older and to help prevent the effects of aging.

Professor Malcolm Jackson, from the University of Liverpool, told Sky News, “We have known for a long time that astronauts in space can lose muscle rapidly. People have speculated whether that is an accelerated aging phenomenon."

Science enthusiasts can stay updated about the progress of the research using the ‘Micro Age Mission' App.

"Aging is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century and we will learn a great deal about how muscle responds to microgravity and aging from the data we obtain from this study," says Professor Jackson.

The U.K. Space Agency said in its report that it has provided $1.5 million (£1.2 million) in funding to the University of Liverpool for the study. In addition to the U.K. Space Agency support that has funded the build and flight of the MicroAge experiment, the University of Liverpool team is supported by research grants from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which will support the analysis of the experiment data.

This is the second time the U.K. Space Agency directly funds an experiment to be launched to the ISS. In the first experiment, which was launched in June 2021, scientists from Nottingham University and Exeter University have sent thousands of tiny worms into space to study the effects of space travel on muscles. 

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