NASA is preparing to launch rockets of about 5,000 tardigrades – adorable little ‘water bears’ – and 128 glowing squids into space.
The animals will head to the International Space Station (ISS) next week as part of SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission. SpaceX is set to launch microscopic creatures aboard its Falcon 9 rocket on June 3, 1:29 p.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Tardigrades are tiny, measuring just 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) long and are popularly nicknamed “water bears” due to their bear-like appearance when viewed through a microscope. – they are able to survive intense radiation; a pressure six times that found in the deepest parts of the ocean; and the vacuum of space, these microscopic animals are tougher much more than their cute name.
In fact, the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft carrying thousands of Tardigrades was dried on board when it crashed to the moon during a failed landing attempt on April 11, 2019.
If any life form can survive the crash, it is probably these creatures, especially since they are in a dehydrated state called “tun”, from which they can be resuscitated. .
It is these abilities that have made the tardigrade a useful research organism on the ISS, where astronauts hope to identify the specific genes responsible for its remarkable feats of adaptation. with harsh environments. This should give us some important insights into the health effects of long-term space travel.
“Some of the conditions in which water bears can survive include being dry, freezing and being heated beyond the boiling point of water. They can survive with thousands of times more radiation than we do, and they can can survive for days or weeks with little or no oxygen,” Thomas Boothby, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming and principal investigator of the experiment, said in a press conference.
“They have been shown to be able to survive and reproduce during spaceflight, and can even survive long periods of exposure to the vacuum of outer space.”
For Boothby’s study, astronauts will examine the molecular biology of the water bears to look for signs of any immediate and long-term adaptations to life in low Earth orbit. – objects that expose astronauts to the rigors of zero gravity and increased radiation exposure.
He hopes that the information gathered from the organisms, prepared to arrive at the ISS in a semi-frozen state before being thawed, will provide important insights into future therapies that could protect health of astronauts during extended space missions.
A separate and parallel experiment also carried out by the resupply mission will bring 128 baby bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) to the station.
The 0.12-inch (3 mm) long squid have a special light-producing organ inside their body, where bioluminescent bacteria provide the squid with light. The researchers of this experiment hope to investigate the symbiotic relationship between bacteria and squid to see how beneficial bacteria interact with animal tissue in space.
“Animals, including humans, rely on our bacteria to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system.” Jamie Foster, a microbiologist at the University of Florida and principal investigator of the Microgravity Understanding for Microbial Interactions (UMAMI) experiment.
“We don’t fully understand how space changes these beneficial interactions.”
The squids are born without bacteria, which they then get from the surrounding ocean, so the researchers are planning to add bacteria to the squid as soon as they are defrosted at the ISS. This way, the researchers could observe the squid as they established a symbiosis with the bacteria.
By studying the molecules produced in this process, the researchers will be able to determine which genes the squid used to achieve the feat in space. Knowing this could help people better take care of the microbes in their immune systems and guts during long space voyages.
Although the journey into space has been a stressful one, the tardigrades have suffered worse at least, having recently survived being shot from a high-speed gun.
In that study, the researchers found that the tardigrade can survive tremors generated at speeds of about 3,000 feet per second (900 meters per second).
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