'Water Bears' Survive Unprotected In Space

Tiny tardigrades, also called water bears are the first animals known to survive the pitiless rigors of space, including hard vacuum, cosmic rays, freezing cold and solar UV rays 1,000 times as strong as those experienced on Earth's surface.


(Tardigrades - water bears - survive rigors of space)

These microscopic animals - just 1.5 millimeters in size when full-grown - are found in lichens or moss, in soil, on mountaintops and in ocean floor sediment at depths of 13,000 feet.

"They have claws and eyes. They are real animals. And this is the first time such an animal was tested in space," said Petra Rettberg, an Institute of Aerospace Medicine microbiologist, who helped design a tardigrade containment system attached to the Foton-M3 satellite, launched last September by a consortium of national space agencies.

When no water is available, water bears enter an anhydrobiotic state, slowing their metabolism by a factor of 10,000. Two species of tardigrades — Richtersius coronifer and Milnesium tardigradum - were used in the experiment. Once in orbit, the tardigrade box on the side of the space capsule popped open, exposing the water bears to the rigors of space, unprotected by tiny space suits.

After ten days of exposure, the creatures were returned to earth, where results were gathered.

"We found that both species of tardigrades survived exposure to space vacuum alone very well, with no significant difference in survival pattern compared to ground controls," says astrobiologist Rettberg. "Samples exposed to the combined effect of vacuum and solar radiation had significantly reduced survival."

Fans of the sf series Farscape may recall the Luxans, a species able to survive unprotected exposure to the vacuum and radiation of space for about fifteen minutes.


(Luxan)

Read more at Daily Mail and Scientific American; see also these details about Luxans. Thanks to Moira for another great scoop.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/12/2008)

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