Are bears very large tardigrades

Do tardigrades live on the moon now?

Tardigrades have a cute name. But they are the most resilient creatures known to us. In the wake of her failed mission, a privately financed Israeli spacecraft lost and released her during her crash on the lunar surface.

The first privately financed mission to the moon had a so-called Lunar Library on board, a disk the size of a CD with encrypted information about humanity, with parts of our human DNA - and with thousands of water bears. The microorganisms can be put into a dry state of rest if water is removed from them.

The special thing about it: You can wake up from it if you get water. This works even after 30 years in the Arctic ice or after being exposed to cosmic rays in this state, researchers have found.

The space probe "Beresheet" (Genesis) was, according to its own statements, the first private probe to land on the moon. In April, however, it crashed on landing on the moon and nobody knows exactly what happened to the water bears that are smaller than a millimeter.

More on this: Israeli space probe crashes on moon landing

Bacteria free riders in space

A water bear is quite resilient

But there was a lot of debate about whether to bring these tardigrade to the moon at all, explains molecular physics professor Nigel Mason of the University of Kent. Normally, care is taken not to take any microorganisms with them from the earth.

"The American space agency NASA and the European space agency ESA always go to great lengths to ensure that all spacecraft are as sterile as possible - especially when they are sent to other planets and moons," says Ciara McGrath, a space engineer from Strathclyde University in Glasgow . She can hardly imagine that NASA would have released tardigrade on the moon just like that.

"When we go out to look for life, we don't want to accidentally bring life into it and rediscover it later without knowing whether it was ours or not," explains McGrath. If there is life on other planets and moons and we bring new life from Earth, it could displace the life there, warns researcher Nigel Mason. Something similar has often happened on Earth: For example, rats and foxes introduced to Australia endanger native life on the continent.

Can everyone shoot anything into space?

The question that arises is who can control and decide what can be sent to the moons and planets. May it be that who has enough money can bring everything to the moon? Private missions do not always have the same standards as NASA missions, criticizes McGrath. For example, there is no guarantee that, from a financial point of view, they have an interest in sterilizing their probes to the same high standard as NASA and ESA.

So far, every privately financed mission has required a license from a country, explains engineer Ciara McGrath. This is mostly the country in which the probe was built or from which the probe will fly. The rules for licenses are different in each country. Only 13 countries have the ability to launch rockets into space.

Deal without a watchdog

The UN's 1967 international "Outer Space Treaty" lays the foundation for peaceful space exploration. The majority of countries have now agreed to this Cold War agreement. It is not only a question of not sending weapons into space, but also that states should avoid all harmful contamination of moons and planets. What is considered harmful and what is considered contamination is not precisely defined.

And - as with many international agreements, there are no sanctions if the agreement is broken and no powerful authority to monitor compliance.

Moon as a garbage dump

But NASA, which is so meticulous with its space probes, has already left many things on the moon. Including 96 bags with human feces from the astronauts on the first moon mission. McGrath explains why it was necessary: ​​"Getting to the moon with our fuel is not that difficult," she says: "The problem is having enough fuel with you for the way back because there is no gas station on the way." For every extra kilo you need more fuel. And because the astronauts also wanted to take lunar rocks with them, they had to leave something else behind.

More on this: NASA mission to Mars started

What survives on the moon

Could bacteria like the one in the feces survive on the moon? And what about the water bear now?

The fact is, it could have been worse. For example, if the tardigrade were lost on Mars. Because there are at least a little better living conditions than on the moon.

On the moon, the bacteria from the feces certainly did not survive, assures astrobiologist Nigel Mason from the Open University in Milton Keynes in Great Britain. Even the aquatic animals will most likely no longer be able to wake up there, because they need water, oxygen and food for this. In addition, they may only be able to survive the influence of radiation, only the extremely low temperatures or only the shock of impact, but all at once is a great deal even for the most resilient animals. At the University of Kent, Mason is now investigating whether water bears change in the event of an impact, such as when they crash-land on the moon.

Perhaps astronauts could collect the tardigrade on their next visit to the moon and find out whether they are still alive and can be awakened from their water bear sleep. Mason considers it very unlikely that they will wake up by themselves and colonize the moon.

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    Author: Hannah Fuchs