• Total Nerd

The 17 Weirdest Experiments From The International Space Station

List RulesVote up the weirdest, most out-of-this-world experiments straight from the heart of space.

While floating through space on the International Space Station, astronauts have a lot of time on their hands. Rather than hanging around all day and doing nothing, they fill their days conducting research on the ISS, some which seem like they could be inspired by a cartoon mad scientist. However, while some of their projects have the distinction of being futuristically bizarre, many also have far-reaching medical implications.

  • 1

    Astronauts Are Storing Freeze-Dried Reproductive Materials From Mice To Study Reproduction In Space

    Photo: NASA on The Commons / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    It's inevitable that at some point the first baby born in space is going to manifest. But before astronauts can mate in the ISS they have find to out how space radiation affects mammalian reproduction. It would be irresponsible (and probably illegal?) to force astronauts to sleep with each other in space until we understand exactly what impact that will have so, in the meantime, we're just making our researchers bring freeze-dried mouse sperm to the ISS which is held for a period of up to one or two years.

    Just a bunch of highly-trained space scientists hanging out with a jug of mouse sperm. Looking at it. After the sperm stays on board for its cycle it's brought back to Earth where it will then be looked over my different highly-trained space scientists who will use it to fertilize mouse eggs that have never left Earth. 

    As weird as this may sound, it's a necessary test in order to find out if humans can sustain life on a long-term mission. So far there has been considerable DNA breakdown in the sperm after nine months on the ISS, but researchers are hoping to improve on those numbers. Also? We might finally learn what space mouse babies look like. 


    Is this experiment out of this world?
  • 2

    Astronauts Are Inadvertently Creating Wild Strains Of Bacteria To Ward Off Alien Invasion

    Photo: clundh / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    One of the biggest concerns in modern space travel is germs, specifically bacteria that can grow and mutate on long trips. Right now, astronauts are prepping for the lengthy trip to Mars and a stay on the planet's surface, and as they prep for that gargantuan task, they're also attempting to sterilize bacteria that may be harmful if it manages to survive in atmosphere of Mars. 

    NASA has reported that the atmosphere on Mars has been known to kill bacteria within 30 seconds, but they've discovered that spores from Bacillus pumilusSAFR-032 have managed to survive both UV radiation and peroxide treatments aboard the ISS. An even more disheartening fact is that the bacteria survived for 18 months on the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF), a test facility mounted outside the space station which simulates the atmosphere of Mars. 

    So why is this study important? As a spokeswoman for the ISS says, 

    Future exploration missions can use the results of these investigations to help find ways to minimize the risk of contaminating another planet. The findings also will help prevent scientists from incorrectly identifying an organism that hitchhiked on the exploring spacecraft as a native of the planet, when in fact it’s an invader. That’s a good thing, because no one wants to be responsible for an alien invasion of Mars. 

    Uh, yeah! We agree, it would be a bad thing to go to Mars and ruin all of their nice stuff with a bunch of super diseases that we invented as a bizarre precaution.

    Is this experiment out of this world?
  • 3

    Astronauts Are Growing Second Heads On Flatworms While Studying Regenerative Tissue

    Photo: sarnau / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Don't you hate it when you're experimenting on a flat worm in outer space and it suddenly grows two heads? That's what happened after researchers sent flatworms into space to study how the regenerative properties of flatworms are affected by microgravity and fluctuations in the geomagnetic field

    (This is another entry in the "F*ck it, let's just see what happens" camp of space experimentation.)

    After the worms returned to Earth, they were compared to a collection of unlucky flatworms who never left the planet. After cutting off a piece of one of the space worms, researchers noted that it began to sprout a second head. Aside from regenerating at an alarming rate, the flatworms from space were also put into a state of shock once they were back on Earth. Researchers noted that the worms were "paralyzed and immobile" for up to two hours after they were reintroduced to the Earth's atmosphere.

    The answer is clear: send the flatworms to space, let them grow as many heads as they want but NEVER BRING THEM BACK. It's honestly too shocking for all parties.

    Is this experiment out of this world?
  • 4

    Astronauts Are Joining SpaceX To Help Clean Up The Galaxy

    Video: YouTube

    In April 2018, Elon Musk's SpaceX sent a “proof of concept” machine to the International Space Station called RemoveDEBRIS that's meant to help astronauts get rid of a lot of the junk that's floating through space. (Hey, Elon; don't forget there's still an entire island of garbage here on Earth.) Before the experimental spacecraft will get to the job of hoovering up the more than 500,000 pieces of debris that are in space, a series of tests will have to be performed on the module, but it is projected to be ready by summer 2018. 

    RemoveDEBRIS will be the largest satellite ever released from the ISS once it has been launched, and after it finishes its mission, the machine won't become the space trash that it so thoroughly hates, but instead will gracefully fall to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

    Is this experiment out of this world?