Hordes of Earth’s toughest creatures may now be living on Moon

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WASHINGTON, Aug 7, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – There might be life on the Moon after
all: thousands of virtually indestructible creatures that can withstand
extreme radiation, sizzling heat, the coldest temperatures of the universe,
and decades without food.

These terrifying-sounding beings aren’t aliens but instead microscopic
Earthlings known as tardigrades, who likely made it out alive following a
crash landing on the lunar surface by Israel’s Beresheet probe in April, the
US-based organization responsible for their trip said Tuesday.

Based on an analysis of the spacecraft’s trajectory and the composition of
the device the micro-animals were stored in, “we believe the chances of
survival for the tardigrades… are extremely high,” Nova Spivack, co-founder
and chairman of the Arch Mission Foundation, told AFP.

The non-profit is dedicated to spreading backups of human knowledge and
Earth’s biology throughout the Solar System, a quest it likens to the
creation of an “Encyclopedia Galactica” first evoked by sci-fi writer Isaac
Asimov.

“Tardigrades are ideal to include because they are microscopic,
multicellular, and one of the most durable forms of life on planet Earth,”
said Spivack.

He added that the diminutive creatures, which are under a millimeter (0.04
inches) in size, had been dehydrated to place them in suspended animation,
then “encased in an epoxy of Artificial Amber, and should be revivable in the
future.”

The tardigrades were stored inside a “Lunar Library,” a nanotechnology
device that resembles a DVD and contains a 30-million-page archive of human
history viewable under microscopes, as well as human DNA.

Spivack is confident this too survived impact — but it doesn’t represent
the first genetic code or life forms to be deposited on the barren celestial
body.

That distinction belongs to the DNA and microbes contained in the almost
100 bags of feces and urine left behind by American astronauts during the
Apollo lunar landings from 1969-1972.

– No rescue mission –

Also known as water bears or moss piglets, tardigrades can live in water or
on land, and are capable of surviving temperatures as high as 150 degrees
Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) and as low as minus 272 degrees Celsius (-
458 Fahrenheit), albeit for a few minutes.

The grub-like, eight-legged animals can come back from being dried out to a
lifeless husk for decades, withstand near-zero pressure in outer space and
the crushing depths of the Mariana Trench.

If they did not burn up in an explosion, they could in theory survive the
tiny pressure on the lunar surface, and the extremes of temperature, William
Miller, a tardigrades expert at Baker University, told AFP.

“But to become active, to grow, eat, and reproduce they would need water,
air and food,” so it would not be possible for them to multiply and form a
colony, he added.

NASA astrobiologist Cassie Conley said that their exact survival time would
depend on the condition of the impact site and the temperatures to which they
are exposed.

“If they don’t get too hot, it’s possible they could survive for quite a
long time (many years),” she told AFP.

“I’d be more concerned that the animals would be affected by toxic
chemicals from the epoxy or glue” used to store them, as opposed to
conditions in space, she added.

Even if the creatures lived on for several years, there is no crewed
mission to the Moon planned until NASA’s Artemis program in 2024 at the south
pole — far from Beresheet’s crash site on the Sea of Serenity, so they
probably won’t make it home.

“It is unlikely that they will be rescued in time, so my guess is that,
even if they survived, they are doomed,” Rafael Alves Batista, a physicist at
Sao Paulo university who co-authored a 2017 paper on tardigrades’ extreme
resilience, told AFP.

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