NASA Wants Rats In Space, And We Sure Don't Want Them On Earth

Soon to be joining Russia's missing sex geckos, currently floating around somewhere in the galaxy? Rodents. Or that's the plan, anyway: NASA will be sending rats into space, for a significant stint on the International Space Station. Yes, the common household pest is about to out-cool us all.

Truth be told, rats have actually been part of space travel for a while now. The first rat to make it into space was — of course — a French rat. His name was Hector, and he left earth in February, 1961. (The rat's enemy, the cat, made it to space a couple of years later, in 1963.) A whole bunch of groovy rats made into space a few years later: they were on the Kosmos 605 satellite, which launched on October 31, 1973. But both these and subsequent rat space trips have been brief affairs, limited to one or two weeks.

Today's rats are part of a bigger, more exciting project: they're being sent to live onboard the ISS to aid researchers in "scientific discoveries," Space.com reports. After 30 to 90 days in orbit, the rats would be brought back to Earth, theoretically healthy and alive. The main purpose of the research? To figure out the long-term effects of micro-gravity, an important part of being a human astronaut exploring the galaxy.

"This will allow animals to be studied for longer period of time on space station missions," NASA's chief scientist for the space station, Julie Robinson, said at a press conference.

The reason rats are the animal of choice is simple: they have a lot in common with us humans, with a much, much shorter life span. A typical rat will live 18 months, or two years maximum — meaning that they're the perfect for seeing what effects time and weightlessness might have on a human. In fact, NASA has been putting a lot of work into researching rodents in space.Recently, they've been developing a Rodent Habitat module, a kind of high-tech space-cage. These cages can hold up to six rats, and come with a whole slew of nifty equipment, like an infrared video system, as well as a food and air dispenser.

NASA Johnson on YouTube

The details are still apparently being worked out, but there's a chance that fruit flies may also be taken onto the ISS, so the rodents might not be alone. Either way, the long trip will mean the scientists need to sort out "changes to animal husbandry" — meaning, in other words, the space-rats' sex life.

Man, am I the wrong species.