Scientists continue to work on a number of projects that will determine whether humans can explore deep space, and this latest one involves embryos.
This latest experiment was undertaken on board China’s Shijian 10 (SJ-10) satellite. The results proved that mammalian embryos are able to develop in space, said Chinese state media. The SJ-10 recoverable spacecraft blasted off from Earth on April 6 with a payload of 19 experiments.
Mice embryos apparently develop as normal in space
One of those experiments was a sealed, microwave-sized container with 6,000 embryos inside it. Chinese scientists wanted to find out if the embryos would develop in space in the same way as they do on Earth.
In order for humans to be able to colonize space, it is important that we can reproduce when we are outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. According to China Daily, an English-language newspaper in the Asian country, the SJ-10 craft beamed data and images from inside the experiment container back to Earth every 4 hours.
One photo showed the embryos 4 hours before takeoff, and another revealed the embryos in their blastocyst stage around 80 hours after the spacecraft took off. The short experiment cannot accurately tell us whether live mice would have developed from the embryos.
Chinese researchers hail experiment
However lead researcher Duan Enkui says that we now know that “the most crucial step in our reproduction” can occur outside the Earth’s atmosphere. That said there is a long way to go before we can go gallivanting off around deep space.
The Shijian 10 capsule has now landed back on Earth, touching down in Mongolia with 11 of the 19 experiments onboard. The remaining 8 are in orbit on board the other portion of the spacecraft.
After 12 days in orbit the embryos are still frozen in the blastocyst stage. Scientists used chemicals to ensure that they wouldn’t develop any further. The researchers are set to ship the embryos to Beijing, where they will be examined in order to compare their development to those that grew here on Earth.
Researchers working on myriad space exploration projects
Alongside the Chinese projects, other space agencies are also testing technology designed to allow humans to engage in deep space missions. One other piece of technology is known as the Bigelow Bungalow, and is currently being tested by NASA
The Bigelow Bungalow is an inflatable habitat that could be used to house astronauts in the future. It is currently attached to the side of the International Space Station (ISS) while it undergoes testing.
The Bungalow is developed by Bigelow Aerospace, and is officially known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The company aims to provide a home for astronauts on deep space missions, and is testing the module to see if it offers adequate protection from space.
If the tests prove to be successful we could see BEAM used in the early stages of space colonization. As the units are inflatable they are not restricted in size by the volume of the rocket that will launch them, as they only inflate once they are in position in space.
Providing a viable habitat for the first humans to colonize space is obviously of paramount importance. If mammalian embryos can develop inside these spaces then that would represent significant progress in driving space exploration.
Of course there are plenty of other factors to worry about, include propulsion systems, but researchers are making great strides towards enabling further exploration of space.