SpaceX sends luminescent squids and tardigrades aboard the ISS

NASA is sending a new shipment of equipment this Thursday, June 3, to the International Space Station. Small animals will join Thomas Pesquet’s crew.

The SpaceX spacecraft lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021 © AFP / Aubrey Gemingnani

This time, it’s not the humans that will arrive aboard the ISS. The payload expected by astronauts on the International Space Station is well filled. Apples, oranges, cherry tomatoes, onions, lemons, peppers and avocados. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket takes off late June 3 from the Kennedy Space Center. It will also carry new solar panels, to increase the amount of energy on board the ISS. Most surprisingly, tiny creatures are part of the journey: 128 luminescent baby squids and 5,000 tardigrades. Scientific experiments are very serious.

To follow the launch from 19:25 in France: Click here.

Tardigrades, resistant to any test

They are also called water bears. It looks cute, but they are nearly invincible beasts. Tardigrades look like piglets, chubby with bulges, eight legs and claws. They are microscopic and known to withstand extreme situations. Heat, drying, frost, space vacuum, this animal is able to survive in space, “to amounts of radiation that we can’t, and they can live for weeks with little or no oxygen” explains Thomas Boothby, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming.

Recently, tardigrades have been transformed into a projectile to assess its resistance, but also sent to the Moon, but the probe crashed during landing. They are sent to the ISS to understand how they adapt to life in orbit. “Spaceflight can overwhelm human organisms, compared to life on Earth”explains researcher Thomas Boothby. “One of the things we want to understand is how tardigrades survive and reproduce in these environments and whether we can learn anything to adapt and protect astronauts.”

Tardigrades, or water bears, can live in the most extreme environments.
Tardigrades, or water bears, can live in the most extreme environments. / Thomas Boothby, University of Wyoming

Scientists hope to identify these genes that allow tardigrades to adapt and survive to microgravity over a long period of time. “For example, if researchers find that tardigrades produce a lot of antioxidants, that means more of them should be included in astronauts’ diets for their health.” explains Future Sciences.

Squid, an immune system similar to that of humans

Another study flies to the ISS. The main players are microscopic squid, 3 millimeters. Its specificity: its body produces light. And that’s why Bobtail squid, or euprymna scolopes, is so interesting. Squids have an immune system very similar to humans. The study should determine the symbiotic relationships between animals and bacteria, as this tiny animal lives with a bioluminescent bacterium. Jamie Foster, a microbiologist at the University of Florida, explains: “Animals, including humans, depend on our microbes to keep their digestive and immune systems healthy. We don’t fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions.”

These two experiences have one thing in common. improve the immune system of the human bodywith a view to space travel over very long distances, for example to Mars.

Baby squid are shown swimming in seawater shortly after hatching.
Baby squid are shown swimming in seawater shortly after hatching. / Jamie S. Foster, University of Florida

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