Tardigrades: Water bears in space
By - - BBC NATURE
Added: Tue, 17 May 2011 18:02:29 UTC
Tardigrades are microscopic animals commonly known as water bears
In 2007, a little known creature called a tardigrade became the first animal to survive exposure to space.
t prevailed over sub-zero temperatures, unrelenting solar winds and an oxygen-deprived space vacuum.
On Monday, this microscopic cosmonaut has once again hitched a ride into space on the Nasa shuttle Endeavour.
Its mission: to help scientists understand more about how this so-called "hardiest animal on Earth" can survive for short periods off it.
Tardigrades join other microscopic organisms selected to be part of a project into extreme survival.
Project Biokis is sponsored by the Italian Space Agency and will investigate the impact of short-duration spaceflight on a number of microscopic organisms. The project will use seven experiments to investigate how spaceflight affects organisms on a molecular level.
The team will be using molecular biology to evaluate any changes in the organisms' genetic information, as well as investigating how cells physically adapt to cope with extreme dehydration, caused by the space vacuum, and damage caused by cosmic radiation.
One of these experiments, the Tardkiss experiment, will expose colonies of tardigrade to different levels of ionising radiation, determined using an instrument called a dosimeter, at different points during the spaceflight mission.
The results from Tardkiss will enable researchers to determine how radiation dosage effects the way cells work.
Tardigrades are of particular interest following the 2007 European Space Agency (Esa) Foton-M3 mission, during which their ability to survive space conditions was discovered.
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