Baby squids and ‘water bears’ to become NASA’s new little astronauts
NASA’s next trip to the International Space Station this week will include a few more passengers than usual – more than 5,000 microscopic creatures used to investigate the impact of weightlessness and long-term space travel on the human body. The special cargo, which will be aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, will include 128 glow-in-the-dark squids and 5,000 tardigrades – tiny creatures called “water bears” because they look like animals under a microscope. Retardigrades are useful for research because they are virtually indestructible. “Some of the things that tardigrades can survive include being dried, frozen and heated beyond the boiling point of water,” said Thomas Boothby, assistant professor of molecular biology. at the University of Wyoming who is leading the experiment. They can survive thousands of times more radiation than we can and they can go days or weeks with little or no oxygen. “They have been shown to survive and reproduce during spaceflight, and can even survive prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space.” Scientists hope that the lessons learned from the resilience of water bears can be applied to astronauts.