Water bears, also known as tardigrades or moss piglets (fascinating!), are microscopic space explorer bears who live on the International Space Station. These little eight-legged critters are tough little creatures, capable of surviving in harsh situations such as high heat or cold, extended periods without access to water, radiation, and even the vacuum of space.
Water Bears or Tardigrades
The tardigrades were sent into space by researchers who sought to see how space microgravity affected the bears’ DNA, as well as whether these genes changed across generations of tardigrades living on the space station. Because of their ability to adapt to harsh environmental conditions, water bears are good candidates for this study. As a result, they’re ideal for investigating potential adaptations to environmental challenges. Once they arrive in space, the scientists want to study what ‘tricks’ they use to live, as well as what tricks their progeny utilize throughout time. It would be helpful to know if they are the same throughout generations or if they change.
Survival During Extreme Conditions
Tardigrades appear to use a number of strategies to survive in harsh environments, including pigments that convert harmful UV radiation into innocuous blue light. In terms of surviving space radiation, researchers believe they do so by manufacturing large amounts of antioxidants that protect them from harm’s way. Researchers may be able to build safer long-term space journeys for humans in the future by studying these little animals over time. On June 3, 2021, the tardigrades were transported to the International Space Station. They’ve moved into their new home, a unique piece of machinery known as the Bioculture System. So there is life outside our beautiful planet after all!