Two female mice, Chevy and Pontiac, will live in a "life bubble" in Skylight Cave near Black Butte this weekend. The bubble could become a prototype for a self-contained biosphere humans will eventually use to explore the galaxy.
The down-to-earth bubble will hold the rodents and several trays of duckweed and water fern. It works because the plants convert the carbon dioxide exhaled by the mice into breathable oxygen, said Gus Frederick, one of the experiment's organizers.
The experiment is funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts and is part of a two-year effort to learn more about surveying caves, developing life support systems and creating biospheres.
Frederick, of Salem, said that similar modules may one day be used for human colonization on Mars, which has a volcanic environment.
Still, scientists say it will be years before they make the leap from sustaining female mice in an Oregon cave to promoting human communities on a faraway planet.
Frederick said he will only use female mice this weekend because he knows they won't fight.
"Males will get aggressive and violent," he said. "We don't have that problem with the female mice. One may become the dominant one and chew the whiskers off the other. But that's not so bad."