So, since there's no upside-down in space, how do you know if your pet fish is alive or dead? It's questions like these (and other, less important ones) that NASA seeks to answer with its new Aquatic Habitat, or AQH, which made its debut on the International Space Station last week.
In addition to keeping the astronauts company and teaching them valuable life skills, the fish that will soon be living in the AQH (a small and mostly transparent freshwater variety called Medaka) will be used to study the effects of radiation, bone degradation and muscle atrophy on space travelers.
It sounds unpleasant, but the fish themselves will likely have a fine time of it. The AQH is outfitted with the latest in luxury fish tank technology, including automatic feeding systems, state-of-the-art filters, temperature control, and LED lighting to simulate day and night cycles. Earlier shuttle experiments suggest that the fish enjoy their time in space enough to breed like rabbits, and a pair of video cameras will allow exoichthyologists to watch every minute of the action.
NASA hasn't specified what's going to happen to the fish after their vacation time is up, but given the difficulty of getting fresh food up to the ISS, our guess is that the station crew will have an unscheduled sushi night shortly after the end of the AQH experiment, followed by a garbled communication down to Huston about how the fish somehow managed to "escape," and oh by the way could the next cargo module carry up some extra wasabi.