NASA to rocket tardigrades, glow-in-the-dark baby squid into space

NASA is preparing to rocket around 128 glow-in-the-dark baby squid and 5,000 tardigrades — known as water bears — into space, the agency announced May 20.

The micro-animals will head to the International Space Station next week onboard a Falcon 9 rocket during SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission.

Tardigrades, known as water bears due to their appearance under a microscope, are tiny creatures that can tolerate environments more extreme than most life forms.

Researchers will use these microscopic creatures to study stress factors affecting humans in space. 

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"Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth," said NASA’s principal investigator Thomas Boothby. "One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts."

In a separate experiment, scientists will also send newly hatched squid up to space to help researchers understand the effects of spaceflight between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.

These squid have a special light-producing organ inside their bodies where bioluminescent bacteria give them their glow, according to Live Science.

Researchers will compare the relationship between the bacteria and the squid, hoping the investigation could support the development of protective measures and mitigation to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.

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"Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system," UMAMI principal investigator Jamie Foster said. "We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions. The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health."

A number of other experiments are set to launch during this mission, including cotton root systems, which will be studied in microgravity to help aid in the development of cotton varieties that require less water and pesticide use. Meanwhile, a portable ultrasound device will also be tested, which could become a critical medical capability for crews in long-term space flights

NASA says these experiments will join the hundreds of other ongoing investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The resupply mission is scheduled to launch June 3 at 1:29 ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.