A cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, scheduled for Thursday, will see astronauts enjoy apples, avocado, and other fresh food—not including the 128 baby squid along for the ride on SpaceX's Dragon, launched by the Falcon 9 rocket. These glow-in-the-dark baby bobtail squid will become part of an experiment looking at the effects of spaceflight on animals, per the BBC. "Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system" but "we do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions," says the experiment's principal investigator Jamie Foster. The goal is to develop measures to protect human health on long space missions. The squid, which will be frozen before their return to Earth, were chosen as they have a similar immune system to humans.
They have company in the form of 5,000 tardigrades, or water bears—microscopic animals able to tolerate extreme environments. "One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts," says principal investigator Thomas Boothby. Astronauts will also test a portable ultrasound device which might be used on future missions where ground support isn't immediately available. New solar panels "that roll out like a red carpet," to be installed this summer, are also included in more than 7,300 pounds of crew supplies, research materials, and hardware to be launched at 1:29pm EDT, per CNET. Dragon will return to Earth with a load of gear in about a month. (Read more International Space Station stories.)