Explained: Why NASA is sending water bears and baby squids to the International Space Station

On June 3, NASA will send 128 glow-in-the-dark baby squids and some 5,000 tardigrades (also known as water bears) to the International Space Station for research.

The aquatic animals, which will be launched aboard SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the ISS, are part of experiments that could help scientists design improved protective measures for astronauts on space travel from long duration. The experiments also aim to better understand how beneficial microbes interact with animals, potentially leading to breakthroughs in improving human health on Earth.

Research aboard the International Space Station

A space station is essentially a large spacecraft that remains in low earth orbit for long periods of time. It’s like a big laboratory in space, and allows astronauts to come on board and stay for weeks or months to perform microgravity experiments.

The ISS has been in space since 1998 and is known for the exemplary cooperation between the five participating space agencies that manage it: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada).

For more than 20 years since its launch, humans have continuously lived and conducted scientific investigations of the $ 150 billion ISS under microgravity conditions, being able to make inroads into research impossible on Earth.

According to NASA, the floating laboratory has hosted more than 3,000 educational research and surveys conducted by researchers from 108 countries and regions, conducting cutting-edge research in a variety of disciplines, including biology, human physiology, and the physical, material and space sciences. .

So why are marine animals necessary for the ISS?

The water bears and bobtail squid will be involved in experiments aboard the floating lab and will arrive in a semi-frozen state before being thawed, resuscitated and cultured in a special bioculture system, according to CNN.

One of those studies involves examining how water bears – tiny animals (about 1mm long) that can adapt to extreme conditions on Earth, including high pressure, temperature, and radiation – would behave in a space flight environment. Researchers will be able to study their hardiness up close and possibly identify the genes that will allow them to become so resilient.

By learning how aquatic bears can survive in low gravity conditions, it would be possible to devise better techniques to keep astronauts healthy on long-duration space missions.

Scientists also want to examine how microgravity conditions affect the relationship between bobtail squid – which are also tiny (3mm long) – and beneficial microbes, in a study called UMAMI, short for Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions.

Microbes play a crucial role in the normal development of animal tissues and in the maintenance of human health, and the research will allow scientists to better understand how beneficial microbes interact with animals when there is a lack of gravity.

In the human body, microorganisms contribute to a variety of functions, including digestion, the development of the immune system, and the detoxification of harmful chemicals. A disruption in our relationship with these microbes can lead to disease.

According to NASA, this research can lead to significant breakthroughs. On Earth, we may be able to find ways to protect and even improve the complex relationship between animals and beneficial microbes, thereby ensuring better human health and well-being. In space, the findings will help space agencies develop better measures to protect astronauts from unwanted damage to host microbes during long-duration missions.

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