THOUSANDS of tiny worms are strapped in and ready to be launched into space tonight to be part of experiments organised by the Swindon-based UK Space Agency.

The little wrigglers are being sent to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral at around 6pm in the first UK-led experiment on the station, which will explore spaceflight-induced muscle loss.

Just a millimetre in length each, the 36,000 C elegans worms will travel in a container no bigger than a matchbox on the SpaceX Falcon 8 rocket.

Libby Jackson from the space agency is leading the Molecular Muscle Experiment project, which encountered an unexpected issue at the last minute.

She said: “The launch had to be delayed by 24 hours because another experiment in the capsule had mouldy food in it and you don’t want that going up to the ISS because it’s dangerous and much harder to deal with in space.

“This will have benefits for astronauts and for people down here on Earth. The effects of microgravity are very similar to the effects of ageing, so if we can figure out how to counteract these effects, we can use that information to help older people and those who have muscular dystrophy and diabetes.

“This experiment was first selected by the European Space Agency back in 2014, so it’s really exciting and pleasing to see it come to fruition after years of work which involved making sure everything’s safe and developing the hardware.

“Starting the first UK-led experiment on the ISS is a great mark of how much the space community has grown and is continuing to grow and that the UK is very strong in the area of microgravity experiments.

“It will be great to watch the launch and I hope it arrives in orbit safely,” she added.

Researchers on the space station will make notes on how much muscle a control group of worms loses over the course of a week, then other worms will be given samples of different medicines to see if any can prevent or reduce the strains of spaceflight on the small nematodes’ muscle mass.

The experiments should take around 10 days each and will be carried out over the space of three months. The tiny test subjects will be frozen before being brought back down to earth.

Spaceflight is an extreme environment that causes many negative health changes to the body and astronauts can lose up to 40 per cent of their muscle after six months in space.

The microscopic worms being used in the experiment share many of the essential biological characteristics as humans and experience biological changes in space, including alterations to muscles and the ability to use energy.

Their space adventure comes two weeks after the agency announced it would providing £3m of funding for a new range of space station experiments to start in 2021, including muscle loss research.

Anyone wanting to see the launch can visit which is streaming it live.