Dozens of baby Hawaiian bobtail squid that had been raised at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory were launched into space earlier in June by NASA. Their journey into the cosmos was part of a SpaceX resupply mission, and their destination was the International Space Station.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Jamie Foster, a researcher on the project, is hoping that information gathered about spacelight’s affects on the squid can help scientists improve the health of humans for lengthy missions in space.
Squids’ relationship with natural bacteria helps them to control their bioluminescence, according to the AP.
University of Hawaii professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, under whom Foster studied, said that astronauts in low gravity see the relationship between their bodies and microbes altered.
“We have found that the symbiosis of humans with their microbes is perturbed in microgravity, and Jamie has shown that is true in squid,” McFall-Ngai said. “And, because it’s a simple system, she can get to the bottom of what’s going wrong.”
Foster elaborated on why this mission, which may initially sound absurd to the headline-only reader, is important.
“As astronauts spend more and more time in space, their immune systems become what’s called dysregulated. It doesn’t function as well,” said Foster. “Their immune systems don’t recognize bacteria as easily. They sometimes get sick.”
If the mission goes as planned, observing what happens to the squid could contribute to solving future astronauts’ health problems.
“There are aspects of the immune system that just don’t work properly under long-duration spaceflights,” Foster added. “If humans want to spend time on the moon or Mars, we have to solve health problems to get them there safely.”
The squid, which are plentiful around Hawaii, are bred at Kewalo Marine Laboratory for research projects across the globe. They grow to roughly three inches long in adulthood. This launch saw about 128 of them sent into space. Also, for those wondering, they’re supposed to return to Earth next month.