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Fruit fly swarms invade the International Space Station ... for Science!

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Thursday, July 3, 2014, 9:54 AM - The astronauts on the International Space Station will soon be dealing with swarms of fruit flies, but it's not because one of them left a banana peal floating around the habitat. Several batches of the flies will soon be headed up to the station, to participate in experiments that will help scientists determine how astronauts are affected by the exposure to radiation and microgravity during prolonged spaceflight.

Floating around on the International Space Station is an incredible experience. Just ask now retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield about it, or check out the Twitter feeds of the astronauts and cosmonauts up in orbit right now. However, the microgravity that allows that flying-sensation also takes a great toll on the body of anyone who spends any significant time up there (you can ask Chris Hadfield about that too). Not only that, but the station is under near-constant bombardment from cosmic rays - from our Sun and from beyond the solar system as well. Although it's well known that these are both hazards of long-term space flight, NASA scientists want to know the exact effects they have on the human body, so that we can find ways to protect astronauts, or develop better ways of helping them recover from their journey.

There have already been several experiments conducted for this, and NASA will even be helped out soon by a pair of twins, Mark and Scott Kelly, one of which will go up to the ISS and the other will stay on Earth. However, that experiment is only with two people, and will only involve the specific conditions that Scott will experience on his particular one-year mission on the station. This is where fruit flies are going to shine. With swarms of flies involved in the study, which will be a permanent addition to the station, and all of these flies having exactly the same DNA sequence, it will give the scientists a much larger sample, and across a much broader range of conditions.

All of this will not only help with missions to the International Space Station, but it will also give insights on how to protect people as we send them back to the Moon, on to Mars, and even here on Earth, especially with sub-orbital spaceflights getting closer and closer to becoming a daily occurrence.

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