Japan plans 'out of this world' experiments

TOKYO - Japan will take its scientific research to new heights - literally - this month when it kicks off a series of experiments in the International Space Station.

Overseeing the studies will be Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who will shoot into space on May 27 aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft and link up with the ISS, which he will call home for six months.

Yui will help researchers from a group of institutions, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the University of Tsukuba, conduct an experiment to study the effects of microgravity on the muscles, bones and other parts of the body.

The researchers have developed a device that, by rotating, can simulate the Earth's gravity. For the experiment, a total of 12 mice will be divided into two groups. One group will be kept in the ISS's normal microgravity environment, and the other will be placed in an environment recreating the Earth's gravity. They will be kept apart for about 30 days.

This will be the first test in which mice are kept in an artificial gravity environment for more than 30 days. When the mice return to Earth, they will be examined to gauge, among other things, the impact of the microgravity environment on their genes.

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