36,000 worms sent into space for mission on aging

(CBS) -- SpaceX's Falcon-9 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center with 36,000 worms wriggling on board. Their mission: to help answer some questions about the human aging process.

"Their muscle structure and the chemistry, so their metabolism, within the muscle is very similar to humans," said Dr. Chris Gaffney with Lancaster Medical School in Britain.

Researchers will study the worms to see how their muscles react to conditions on the space station. They're hoping to figure out what causes the bodies of astronauts to get old quickly in space.

"We see lots of bone mineral density. We see loss of muscle mass and a loss of strength. These are the sort of things that happen in space flight, but they happen in a period of weeks to months as oppose to years."

The microscopic creatures will be on-board the rocket for about a week, before being frozen. Scientists say their work could also lead to new medical treatments.

"We think that some of the insight that we get from this experiment might be valuable for treating things such as type-2 diabetes and muscular dystrophy."

In mid-January, the worms will return to Earth where in-depth research will begin.