Invertebrate Astronauts Make Space History

Brandon Keim, WIRED Science: It’s one small step for Tardigrada, and one giant leap for the animal kingdom: The toughest creature on Earth has survived a trip into space. Except for a few hardy strains of bacteria, any other creature would have been destroyed — but tardigrades handled the voyage as though it were a dry spell on their local moss patch.

“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. Better known as water bears, tardigrades are eight-legged invertebrates visible to the naked eye and found throughout the world, making them a biology class favorite.

They’re capable of halting their metabolisms during times of extreme privation, and can repair DNA damage caused by extraordinary doses of radiation — a phenomenon that’s piqued scientific curiosity and prompted researchers to shoot tardigrades into naked orbit around the Earth.

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