NASA sends dozens of baby squids to space for research

NASA/Tony Gray & Kevin O'Connell

NASA has launched approximately 128 baby Hawaiian bobtail squids into space that will help develop new solutions to strengthen the health of astronauts embarking on long space missions.

The baby Hawaiian bobtail squids blasted off into space on June 3, aboard SpaceX’s 22nd resupply mission bound to the International Space Station. This type of tiny inkfishes are plentiful in Hawaiian waters and grow about three inches long as adults. Those being used for this study were raised at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory in the University of Hawaii where researcher Jamie Foster completed her doctorate.

Paul the squid is shown at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory on June 11, 2021. (Craig T. Kojima, Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports, Foster is a principal investigator for a NASA program that researches how microgravity affects the interactions between animals and microbes. Her ongoing study tackles how spaceflight affects the squids whose biological interaction with natural bacteria regulates their bioluminescence. Their symbiotic relationship with the microbes is, at the same time, similar to that of humans.

“We have found that the symbiosis of humans with their microbes is perturbed in microgravity, and Jamie has shown that is true in squid,” said University of Hawaii professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, who trained Foster in the 1990s. “And, because it’s a simple system, she can get to the bottom of what’s going wrong.”

Margaret McFall-Ngai, lead scientist at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory (left) and lab manager Randall Scarborough standing with a squid in the laboratory. (Craig T. Kojima, Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)
Lab manager Randall Scarborough staring at a tiny squid in the laboratory. (Craig T. Kojima, Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

According to Foster, understanding what happens to the squid in space could help solve health problems that astronauts face.

“As astronauts spend more and more time in space, their immune systems become what’s called dysregulated. It doesn’t function as well,” Foster said. “Their immune systems don’t recognize bacteria as easily. They sometimes get sick.”

“There are aspects of the immune system that just don’t work properly under long-duration spaceflights. If humans want to spend time on the moon or Mars, we have to solve health problems to get them there safely,” she added.

The baby squids are expected to return to Earth in July.

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