For NASA, the next couple of days will be historic, as the organization, and all those tied to it in one way or another, count down the days until the space shuttle Discovery launches into space for the last time. While it may be a major launch in of itself, the shuttle will also host a team of mice to discover (no pun intended) the effects of spaceflight on the immune system.
According to Dr. Roberto Garofalo, it has become increasingly clear over the years that astronauts have become more susceptible to infection during flights into space, and immediately following the flight. Scientists want to find out what, exactly, is triggering the high susceptibility rates. In turn, they want to be able to protect astronauts better, and more completely. And, here on Earth, scientists hope that the discoveries will be able to help those with a lesser, more vulnerable immune system.
The Discovery shuttle will have a full crew: six astronauts, all of which have reached veteran class, and 16 mice. The mice are on board to test the effects on the immune system during the flight. Of course, NASA is hosting an event, which they instigated via Twitter. The organization is hosting a tweet-up for 150 local Twitter users, who were randomly chosen out of 2,700. Those in attendance will meet up today, and will take part in events that are planned all the way up until the Discovery's launch on Wednesday. So, if you're one of the lucky winners, let us know how it goes in the comments.