Critters Hitch Ride to Martian Moon, and Back: Discovery News

By | February 27, 2009

Critters Hitch Ride to Martian Moon, and Back: Discovery News

No one knows if there is life on Mars, but if all goes well with a Russian science mission later this year, there will be life on the Martian moon Phobos — for a short time anyway.

An assortment of critters and microbes are scheduled to make a round-trip journey to Phobos as passengers aboard a Russian spacecraft, scheduled to launch in October.

The mission, called Phobos-Grunt, aims to return samples of the Martian moon to Earth for analysis. It will be the first Russian-led mission to Mars since the loss of the Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 probes in 1988 and the botched launch of the Mars 96 spacecraft.

“I wish them luck,” said University of Colorado planetary scientist Larry Esposito, who was a science team member on two of the failed Russian missions. …

In addition to planetary sciences, two teams of researchers are interested in learning how living organisms fare during the three-year round-trip journey to Mars.

The Pasadena, Calif.-based Planetary Society is flying 10 different species in a small canister to test a theory that life could have been carried to Earth inside meteorites. The samples include tardigrades — also known as water bears — seeds and microscopic bacteria.

“The organisms are being sent in a dormant state, like spores,” program manager Bruce Betts told Discovery News.

via Critters Hitch Ride to Martian Moon, and Back: Discovery News.

This was amazing:

When it comes to surviving open exposure in space, a tiny invertebrate now stands out: tardigrades, also known as “water-bears.”

These small, segmented animals not only survived a 12-day orbital expedition, some members of the community felled by solar radiation actually recovered upon their return to Earth.

“How these animals were capable of reviving their body … remains a mystery,” said lead researcher Ingemar Jönsson, with Sweden’s Kristianstad University, who writes about the discovery in this week’s issue of Current Biology.

In what is apparently the first test of an animal’s ability to survive open exposure to space, tardigrades were packed aboard the European-funded Foton-M3 spacecraft launched by Russian in September 2007.

The tiny invertebrates, which range in size from about 0.1 to 1.5 mm, are more commonly found on mosses and lichens. Because their habitats often dry up, the creatures are extremely hardy and can survive prolonged periods of total dryness.

That seems to be just the beginning of their skills. Packed in ventilated chambers that were exposed to the vacuum of space, adults from two species of tardigrades were subjected to extreme heat, frigid cold, cosmic rays and deadly levels of solar ultraviolet radiation. They had no air, water or food.

Most of the 3,000 creatures not only survived, but they went on to reproduce once they came back to Earth. – discovery

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