A recent experiment across the ISS (International Space Station) is analyzing tardigrades, minuscule creatures also called water bears, due to the way they look under a microscope.
Tardigrades got a reputation for having a massive threshold to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, on our planet, and the fact that they can survive decades without water.
The newest experiment, known as Cell Science-04, targets to find the genes that help the water bears survive and adapt to highly severe environments, including the ones astronauts experience in space.
According to NASA, scientists hope that the discoveries can pave the way of protecting humans from the problems of long-time space travel.
The tardigrades arrived on the ISS on June 5, 2021, thanks to the SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship.
However, they are not the first tardigrades to visit space. A similar experiment occurred in 2007, when a European research team sent 3,000 living tardigrades into Earth orbit for 12 days.
Tardigrades are popular thanks to their survival superpowers.
They can reach the age of 60 years, survive for nearly 30 years without water or food, and endure temperature upwards of 150 degrees Celsius, microgravity, deep-sea conditions, and even the increased levels of radiation of space.
Water bears survive such impossible conditions by entering a state of suspended animation. Fundamentally, they can dry up and survive for years without water, getting carried by the wind.
When they touch water, they revive and carry on with their lives like nothing ever happened.
The Cell Science-04 experiment aims to figure out how the tardigrades do that.
Thomas Boothby, a principal investigator of the experiment from the University of Wyoming, said:
“We want to see what ‘tricks’ they use to survive when they arrive in space, and, over time, what tricks their offspring use. Are they the same or do they change across generations? We just don’t know what to expect.”