Tardigrades, fantastic microscopic animals that live in water and are capable of surviving extreme environments either on Earth or in space, will be the protagonists of the next launch to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s cargo resupply mission to the ISS that will take place on June 3, will carry a wide range of scientific experiments and a payload of tardigrades (5,000), luminescent squid (128 hatchlings) or cotton plants, among other things, to better understand how microgravity affects the resistance of plants, the formation of kidney stones and the symbiotic relationships between animals. Squids are part of the UMAMI (Understanding Microgravity in Animal-Microbe Interactions) study examining the effects of spaceflight on interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts. Microbes play an important role in the normal development of animal tissues and in maintaining human health.
Other experiments heading to the station include a portable ultrasound, remote operation of robotic arms using virtual reality, analyzing how kidney stones form in space, studying the oral microbiome, and producing more stress-resistant cotton.
Traveling into space can be stressful, but tardigrades continue to present themselves as really tough creatures: they have recently survived high speed gun fire (900 meter per second shots) and have endured worse conditions. Tardigrades have been shown they are practically impossible to kill: They can be frozen, boiled, crushed, and even exposed to radiation. And they continue to survive like nothing.
Hence these powerful abilities have caught the attention of NASA, which hopes to identify the genes that protect it from harsh environments in hopes of better protecting astronauts from the stressors of space.