Tardigrades in Space – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Astrobiology Glossary

I. What are Tardigrades?

Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets, are microscopic, water-dwelling animals that belong to the phylum Tardigrada. They are known for their ability to survive in extreme environments that would be lethal to most other organisms. Tardigrades can be found in a variety of habitats, including mosses, lichens, soil, and even the deep sea. They have a unique appearance, with eight legs and a segmented body that can retract into a protective barrel shape.

II. How do Tardigrades survive in extreme environments?

Tardigrades have developed a number of remarkable adaptations that allow them to survive in extreme environments. One of the key factors in their resilience is their ability to enter a state of cryptobiosis, in which they essentially shut down their metabolism and become almost completely desiccated. This state allows them to survive extreme temperatures, pressures, and levels of radiation that would kill most other organisms.

In addition to cryptobiosis, tardigrades have a unique protein called Dsup that helps protect their DNA from damage caused by radiation. They also have the ability to repair their DNA more effectively than most other organisms. These adaptations allow tardigrades to survive in environments that would be deadly to almost any other form of life.

III. Can Tardigrades survive in space?

Given their ability to survive in extreme environments on Earth, scientists have long been interested in whether tardigrades could survive in the harsh conditions of outer space. In fact, several experiments have been conducted to test the resilience of tardigrades in space.

IV. What experiments have been conducted on Tardigrades in space?

One of the most well-known experiments involving tardigrades in space was conducted in 2007 on the European Space Agency’s FOTON-M3 mission. Tardigrades were sent into space and exposed to the vacuum, radiation, and microgravity of low Earth orbit for 10 days. Surprisingly, many of the tardigrades survived the experience and were able to reproduce once they were returned to Earth.

More recently, in 2019, tardigrades were sent to the moon on the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet. Unfortunately, the spacecraft crash-landed on the moon, leaving the fate of the tardigrades uncertain. However, the fact that tardigrades were able to survive the crash and the harsh conditions of space for an extended period of time is a testament to their incredible resilience.

V. What are the implications of Tardigrades surviving in space?

The ability of tardigrades to survive in space has significant implications for astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life. If tardigrades can survive the harsh conditions of outer space, it raises the possibility that life could exist on other planets or moons in our solar system or beyond. Tardigrades could potentially be used as a model organism to study the limits of life and the potential for life to exist in extreme environments.

VI. How do Tardigrades contribute to astrobiology research?

Tardigrades are a valuable tool for astrobiology research because of their ability to survive in extreme environments. By studying how tardigrades cope with conditions such as radiation, vacuum, and microgravity, scientists can gain insights into the limits of life and the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. Tardigrades could also be used to test the viability of life-support systems for long-duration space missions, such as those to Mars or beyond.

In conclusion, tardigrades are truly remarkable creatures that have captured the interest of scientists and the public alike. Their ability to survive in extreme environments, including space, makes them an invaluable resource for astrobiology research and the search for extraterrestrial life. By studying tardigrades, scientists hope to unlock the secrets of life’s resilience and potential for existence beyond Earth.