For The Tardigrade, Earth Was Not Enough

Like the TV Honeymooner Ralph Kramden's catchphrase, for those who remember, I could hear scientists saying, "To the Moon, you tardigrade, to the moon!" I could hear it, because not too long ago when I first learned about this indestructible creature, I researched about them in a post I called, "Tardigrade, The One Animal On The Planet Able To Survive An Apocalypse." This is the one creature on Earth that could survive the end of planet. So it made so much sense that it might be sent to the Moon to see if it could conquer yet another celestial body.

Species all their own . . .

Tardigrades (Latin: Tardigrada) also known as water bears are microscopic animals (their body size varies from 0.05 to 1.2 mm). In the contemporary taxonomy they are considered as one of the invertebrate Phyla (that means they are not insects, mites or crustaceans, they are just tardigrades!)

Crash-landed on the Moon . . .

Tardigrades are omnipresent. They live in the ocean and in the soil of every continent, in every climate and in every latitude and longitude. Their unbelievable resilience has allowed them to overcome whatever earth has in store for them. That’s because tardigrades are one of the toughest — if not THE toughest animal to ever exist. So could the moon be far behind?

In April of this year, the lunar lander Beresheet — a privately funded Israeli project — crashed on the moon. But part of the mission lived on. Included in the spacecraft was the Arch Mission Foundation carrying a 'time capsule' of sorts. This was stored data "to preserve the records of Earth's civilization, that would survive for billions of years."

The Library

This library of history was etched on a nickel-metal disc, and contained nearly all of the English version of Wikipedia, in addition to classic books, human blood samples and yes . . . those persistent little tardigrades [because if anything is going to survive a billion-plus years, it was them.]

Tuns of fun . . .

It’s important to reinforce the fact that tardigrades are indestructible, for all intents and purposes. But this superpower only surfaces when they enter a special state, called cryptobiosis. In that state, they tuck in their legs and expel all moisture from their frame, preserving their bodies. They’re called "tuns" when they reach this state, and it was tuns that were sent aboard the Beresheet.

Research has also shown the tuns can survive pressures up to 87,022.6 pounds per square inch — six times of that which is found in the deepest part of the ocean.

So if that apocalypse ever happened on Earth and wiped us out, it's most likely tardigrades would be the lone survivors. But what about on the Moon and elsewhere throughout space?

“Can simple life spread through the cosmos like radio waves [just naturally moving through the universe, on its own], or does it need to wait billions of years until there are technological species with spaceships to spread it?” planetary scientist Phil Metzger recently asked on Twitter.

That’s a huge question for astrobiologists Maybe these tardigrades like Alice Kramden of the Honeymooners can one day help us discover the answer.


Alice Kramden


Primary Source: Vox