Aquatic Species on Columbia Fertile, Loving

From Associated Press

Only the finest, friendliest and most fertile aquatic animals were loaded into the shuttle Columbia on Thursday for a planned two-week laboratory mission.

The four Japanese red-bellied newts made the cut by beating out their peers in the egg-laying competition. So did the two female Japanese Medaka, a kind of fish, which also had to get along with their two male companions and avoid the looping behavior exhibited by spacefaring fish in the past.

“If you are looping, can you mate? In a merry-go-round? It’s crazy,” Japanese project scientist Shunji Nagaoka said.


Columbia is scheduled to blast off today at 9:43 a.m. PDT with these and other aquatic animals aboard. Forecasters gave a 60% chance of acceptable weather, with thunderstorms threatening to delay the launch.

More than 80 experiments are planned for the mission, with about 200 scientists from around the world participating. The seven astronauts include Dr. Chiaki Mukai, a Tokyo heart surgeon who will become the first Japanese woman in space.

Besides newts and Medaka, Columbia’s passenger list includes six goldfish, 126 jellyfish, 144 newt eggs, 340 Medaka eggs, 180 toad eggs and six toad testes to fertilize those eggs, 11,200 baby sea urchins and 500 flies. An equal number of animals will undergo identical experiments on the ground as a control group.

Scientists are interested in how the animals develop and behave in weightlessness.

Japanese biologists, for instance, want to see whether and how fish mate in weightlessness.