Itty Bitty Critter Committee to join human astronauts on Shuttle Endeavour

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Oh, sure, human astronauts will be on board Space Shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission set to launch Monday. But so will five microscopic life forms: Water Bears, also known as Tardigrades (shown above); the bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans and Bacillus subtilis; and the archaea Haloarcula marismortui and Pyrococcus furiosus. More about "Shuttle LIFE" here, via the Planetary Society.

Tardigrades image via Google Knol.

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  1. If NASA is comfortable with the risk of Tardigardes coming back super-intelligent and radioactive, Ok I guess. But that’s not the path I would have chosen.

  2. Ah, that takes me back to my youth; thousands of Tardigardes as far as the eye could see, thundering across the Plains. Pity we’ve hunted them to near extinction.

  3. Water Bears are delightful. Since they are just about indestructible, they would make the perfect first pets for kids if they were scaled up a bit. I guess we will have to settle for this instead.

    1. they would make the perfect first pets for kids if they were scaled up a bit

      Spoken like someone who hasn’t seen one with its jaws everted.

      On the other hand, they’re also called “moss piglets”. Moss piglets!

    2. They’re not nearly indestructible. Something people rarely seem to grasp about creatures like these and Deinococcus: the reason they’re not everywhere is because they’re vulnerable to other life, and get eaten or out-competed all the time. They’re just resilient to the stuff we’re not to.

      1. “Something people rarely seem to grasp about creatures like these and Deinococcus: the reason they’re not everywhere is because they’re vulnerable to other life, and get eaten or out-competed all the time.”

        I don’t know about Deinococcus, but as I understand it, tardigrades ARE almost everywhere. Everywhere water, even if only in thin films, is available; from Pole to Pole, from the highest mountains to the depths of the oceans, deserts to tropical rain forests.

        1. Ok, they’re everywhere, but my point was not in terribly high numbers. If you check with a microscope, finding a tardigrade is a treat.

          1. … finding a tardigrade is a treat.

            Speaking of which, are Water Bears good to eat? Like tiny lobsters?

            If you can gather enough of them to constitute a morsel, of course.

  4. It’s sad that the only waterbear plushies I can find have cutesy googly-eyes. I want one with the anatomically correct horrormaw.

  5. yeah, the ‘mouth’ is too small

    If it was Hollywood or Anime: cut off two rings back and add a hole with Sarlac Fangs spinning at 1K+RPMs: then you might have something to fear

    (also make them the size of tanker trucks)

  6. I hope we don’t kill any Space Bears in the process. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had larger cousins floating around in space the size of Jupiter. I really don’t want planet Earth swallowed up by giant Space Bears in an act of space vengeance.

  7. Pyrococcus furiosus are BADASS! They are extremophiles (from Latin extremus meaning “extreme” and Greek philiā meaning “love”).
    Their name means Rushing Fireberry, so do not let them anywhere near your testes satchel!

  8. Tardigrades are god’s gift to those of us nerdy enough to know what water bears are. If they came in hamster size, I’d own a hundred of them. I have no doubt whatsoever that the water bears will do just fine in any experiment the astronauts put them through. I’m not so sure about the other lifeforms, but then again, I don’t care.

    I do wonder if there are any tardigrade otherkin among us…

  9. And this is really just the test flight. The real mission comes this Fall, when a canister of these microscopic organisms will be going to Phobos, moon of Mars (and, hopefully, back to Earth after it gets samples) aboard the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobos-Grunt

  10. also from wiki:
    “September 2007, tardigrades were taken into low Earth orbit on the FOTON-M3 mission and for 10 days were exposed to the vacuum of space. After they were returned to Earth, it was discovered that many of them survived and laid eggs that hatched normally.[8]”

  11. Whenever I look at that picture, I want to take a pair of the worlds smallest tweezers and squeeze the life out of it…I can’t help it, most bugs (except for spiders) creep me out.

  12. What perfect smoothness does the water bear in the photo stand upon?

    See how it distorts the fabric it stands upon,with its mass.

    Incredible critters,but FFS do not release them into ZeroG.
    They will become intergalactic planet eaters.

    More powerful than you could possibly imagine.:)

  13. The reason it’s acting so unusually docile is that it had its fangs unceremoniously ripped out by unscrupulous poachers who sell these poor creatures as toys to Westerners.

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