DECAY DELAY

Micestronauts’ moldy munchies may make module mission miss

Space-bound mice need non-moldy food.
Space-bound mice need non-moldy food.
Image: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
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To keep the International Space Station running, NASA must routinely restock its supplies with items like tools to make repairs and food for astronauts. One such resupply mission, CRS-16, is planned for tomorrow (Dec. 4) via SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, but it’s hit a small snafu: moldy mouse food.

The space station, among other things, hosts the US’s ISS National Lab, and ISS crew members help initiate, maintain, and complete the lab’s many scientific studies during their tenure. Part of tomorrow’s payload includes supplies for those studies, which includes live mice. While they make their journey to the ISS, those mice will need to eat. But NASA has discovered that some of their food has been contaminated with mold. 

“Food bars are shipped in sterile packaging, but they have to be manipulated to be put on a plate to go in the mouse habitats. It’s suspected that when that happened they were exposed and mold started to grow on them,” said ISS program chief scientist Kirt Costello in a media briefing today (Dec. 3). “This is something we’re still looking into. We already pre-packed the food, that food is on the SpaceX [Dragon]. The food that is now suspect will be returned and not re-used.”

Replacing that food will need to be a quick endeavor; CRS-16’s launch is planned for around 1:38 PM Eastern Time tomorrow. If NASA is not able to procure fresh mouse food and switch it out with the moldy stuff, the launch could be delayed. And while launch delays aren’t uncommon at NASA, they’re usually due to weather or mechanical issues. A mold delay has happened at least once before, when some cargo bags developed black mold; it seems that the humid environment at Cape Canaveral isn’t doing NASA’s cargo any favors.