Mice and men: space gerbils blaze trail for humans to Mars


MOSCOW (AFP) — Ten gerbils took off from the Russian-run Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan on Friday for a 12-day voyage to test the possible effects of a human mission to Mars, an official said Friday.
A Foton-M spaceship with the rodents on board took off on a Soyuz rocket, mission official Anfisa Kazakova told AFP by telephone.
The rocket is to include a cage with 10 rodents with the aim of studying the physiological and biological effects of long-term flights, she said.
The small mammals, related to rats and mice and often used as pets by children will be kept in cages containing cereals, nuts and dry grapes. Special equipment will be used to clean their excrement in the weightless conditions.
The gerbils will be filmed in their special environment, where day and night will be simulated, while the ventilation and temperature will be closely controlled.
Information will be regularly transmitted to Earth, but their film will only be viewed on their return to earth, Kazakova said.
The landing will be similar to that experienced by human cosmonauts, but the welcome will be decidedly cold, with several of the rodents to be dissected.

AFP: Mice and men: space gerbils blaze trail for humans to Mars