One Giant Leap for Insectkind

Fruit flies help scientists study the effects of life on a spaceship

08-01-2006 // Hannah Schardt

WHEN SEVEN astronauts blasted off in July on the shuttle Discovery, they were accompanied by about 150 tiny research assistants: fruit flies, sent along to help study the effects of zero gravity on living creatures. The workaholic of the insect world, Drosophila melanogaste has a lifespan of about 60 days and reaches maturity just 10 days after hatching, making it a perfect subject for scientific research.

As for the fruit flies' out-of-this world trip, NASA scientists hope that they will give insights into the effects of zero-gravity on the human immune system. Their brief lives mean that even a short trip to space--Discovery was away from Earth for just 13 days--could affect their bodies in ways equivalent to a human journey of months or even years. Studying those effects could help predict how astronauts might fare in a 2- to 3-year mission to Mars or the moon.

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