Earlier this year, the Beresheet Lunar Lander, a privately funded spacecraft from Israel, crash-landed on the moon due to a system failure. Luckily, there were no humans on board the small spacecraft but it was carrying some special cargo – dehydrated tardigrades.
What are Tardigrades? They are tiny microscopic animals that live in water. Popularly known as water bears or moss piglets, they are short and plum with 4 pairs of legs and sharp claws. When fully grown, they are about 0.02 inches long! They are found on every continent – from mountain tops to the deep oceans, usually near a body of freshwater.
What is so special about them?
Tardigrades are extremely hardy as they can survive catastrophic situations like extreme temperature changes, starvation, and even no air.
When tardigrades are de-hydrated, they withdraw their heads and eight legs and shrink into a tiny ball. They discard almost all of the water in their body and enter a deep state of rest that nearly resembles death. When they are reintroduced to water after decades, they are able to revive themselves.
Why were they sent to the moon? They were part of a ‘Lunar Library’ project by the Arch Mission Foundation in Los Angles. The project aims to create a ‘backup of planet Earth’ and preserve the records of human civilization well into the future. In the event that planet Earth gets affected due to some major calamity, the time capsule will aid as a backup of information or even a memory of what life on Earth was.
This library was stored on a metal disc about the size of a DVD. It contains 30 million pages of data (200GB), human DNA samples, and dehydrated tardigrades that are encased in a paste of artificial Amber. The data includes the entire English-language version of Wikipedia, thousands of fiction and nonfiction books, a collection of textbooks, and a guide to 5,000 languages amongst other things.
This is not the first time that tardigrades have traveled to space. In 2007, researchers sent a few into orbit above Earth to see if they could survive in space and a few of them did! It is uncertain if any of the tardigrades survived the crash, but the question is will they will be able to regenerate themselves on the moon?
Written by: Preetika Soni. Preetika is a full – time toddler mommy. In the time that is left, she enjoys writing, photography and crochet. She has worked with NDTV, Mumbai and has taught at SCMSophia.