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Germans to blast fish into space

Piscine zero-grav white-knuckle ride

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German scientists will today blast 60 baby cichlid fish 260km into space aboard a two-stage rocket to see how the poor blighters react to six minutes of weightlessness.

The piscine guinea pigs will lift off from Sweden's Esrange Space Centre on the 11-metre Texus vessel, Reuters reports. Some will be subjected to a "pure zero G state", while others will enjoy the trip in a slowly-turning centrifuge.

Experimenters Reinhard Hilbig and Ralf Anken of the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim will later examine video footage of the fish in flight, and probe their "small balance organs", aka otoliths, to see just how the voyagers coped with their adventure.

Esrange Space Centre project manager, Tomas Hedqvist, explained: "Fish, when they get motion sick, begin tumbling around, swimming in circles and miss their balance. People when they are aboard the space shuttle they have this space motion sickness also. Human beings have blood pressure up in the head when they are weightless and also bones get weak and muscles get small.

"They use fish since it's much easier to investigate on fish [than] human beings."

Scientists have previously dispatched fish on parabolic plane rides, but the 20-30 seconds of weightlessness these offer have have proved "too short for clear conclusions", Hedqvist noted. ®

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