After successfully figuring out ways to water plants in outer space, Nasa is now all set to send glow-in-the-dark baby squids and about 5,000 tardigrades, also called water bears, to the International Space Station.
The new set of arrivals to the flying laboratory beyond Earth’s orbit will push the envelope on experiments that include studying how water bears tolerate extreme environment, whether microgravity affects symbiotic relationships, and analysing the formation of kidney stones.
The new arrivals are part of the 22nd SpaceX cargo resupply mission that will liftoff on June 3.
The water animals could prove helpful in designing new strategies and improved protective measures for astronauts as Nasa returns to the Moon and looks at long-duration space travel to Mars.
Studying biological survival
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are known to tolerate environments more extreme than most life forms are able to. They have a common habitat in water and are a model organism for studying biological survival under extreme conditions on Earth and in space. Nasa in a statement said that researchers have sequenced the genome of the tardigrade Hypsibius exemplaris and developed methods for measuring how different environmental conditions affect tardigrade gene expression.
Studies in microgravity on living organisms could advance the understanding of stress factors affecting humans in space and support the development of countermeasures. Researchers will look to study how tardigrades survive and reproduce in these environments, and whether those biological processes can be replicated in humans or not.
Squids to help tissue development studies
Apart from water bears, Nasa is also sending bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, an animal model that is used to study symbiotic relationships between two species. Humans rely on microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system, but we do not understand the complex symbiotic system. “The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health,” Nasa said. The study will help determine whether spaceflight alters the mutually beneficial relationship, which could support the development of protective measures and mitigation to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.