There were high hopes for the Israeli SpaceIL craft “Beresheet,” which was supposed to be the first privately-owned spacecraft to ever land on the surface of the Moon, but as Wired explains, things didn’t go as planned:
“It was just before midnight on April 11 and everyone at the Israel Aerospace Industries mission control center in Yehud, Israel, had their eyes fixed on two large projector screens. On the left screen was a stream of data being sent back to Earth by Beresheet, its lunar lander, which was about to become the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. The right screen featured a crude animation of Beresheet firing its engines as it prepared for a soft landing in the Sea of Serenity. “But only seconds before the scheduled landing, the numbers on the left screen stopped. Mission control had lost contact with the spacecraft, and it crashed into the moon shortly thereafter.”
After the crash, the team that had been with the project from the beginning was in disbelief, with Nova Spivack, founder of the Arch Mission Foundation, remarking:
“For the first 24 hours we were just in shock. We sort of expected that it would be successful. We knew there were risks but we didn’t think the risks were that significant.”
But in another sense, the mission wasn’t a total failure, especially if you’re a fan of tardigrades, which are small micro-creatures that are frequently referred to as “water bears.”No big deal, right? How long can something survive in the zero gravity of deep space? But as Wired first reported back in 2017, the water bear may well be the “toughest animal in the known universe.” How tough? They’ve been found on the exterior of the International Space Station!
So, for those keeping score at home, there literally is life on the Moon now, and it looks like the strange picture below:
The tardigrades being carried by the Israeli lander were dehydrated, which is some consolation, but the team that led the mission is saying they may be able to rehydrate them if they want to:
“The promising thing about the tardigrades, says Spivack, is that they could hypothetically be revived in the future. v are known to enter dormant states in which all metabolic processes stop and the water in their cells is replaced by a protein that effectively turns the cells into glass. Scientists have revived tardigrades that have spent up to 10 years in this dehydrated state, although in some cases they may be able to survive much longer without water.”
All of this is part of a larger project to create a lunar library of DNA samples so that scientists can track how different species react to Moon life. That being the case, it seems safe to say that the tough as nails water bears might just be the perfect test subject for any experiments in outer space.
“NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection classifies missions based on the likelihood that their targets are of interest to our understanding of life. As such, missions destined for places like Mars are subject to more stringent sterilization processes than missions to the Moon, which has few of the necessary conditions for life and isn’t at risk of contamination. In fact, Spivack isn’t even the first to leave DNA on the moon. This honor belongs to the Apollo astronauts, who left nearly 100 bags of human feces on the lunar surface before they returned to Earth.”
One thing we can all agree on: Water bears are a heck of a lot cuter than feces.
Here’s more on the enigmatic water bear:
Featured Image Via YouTube Screenshot