Tardigrades Stuck On The Moon After Spacecraft Crash, Believed To Still Be Alive

A view of the Earth appears over the Lunar horizon as the Apollo 11 Command Module comes into view of the Moon.
NASA / Getty Images

It has been revealed that after an Israeli spacecraft crash-landed on the moon back in April, it left behind thousands of tardigrades — one of Earth’s most indestructible animals, reported the BBC. Also referred to as “water bears,” this organism is capable of surviving extreme heat of up to 302 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius) and temperatures below freezing.

The Israeli spacecraft — called Beresheet — was forced to crash-land on the lunar surface after one of its main engines failed. The point of the mission was to take pictures, conduct experiments, and transport thousands of dehydrated tardigrades as part of the agency’s “lunar library” — a 30-million-page archive of microscopic human history that includes human DNA.

The tardigrades were transported in a state of suspended animation and encased in artificial amber or stuck to tape. The organism is capable of entering a state of suspended animation that closely resembles death after being dehydrated and forced to roll up into tiny balls. It has been shown that even decades after entering this state, tardigrades can be brought back to life again after being given the opportunity to rehydrate.

While the microscopic animal is incapable of coming back to life on the moon without water, the Arch Mission Foundation believes that they are still alive.

“We believe the chances of survival for the tardigrades… are extremely high.”

In addition to maintaining a lunar library, the foundation also keeps a “backup” of planet Earth, which includes all biology present on the planet in addition to all human knowledge, and continuously sends it out to different solar locations in the event that something happens to end all life on Earth.

Arch Mission Foundation boss Nova Spivack explained why tardigrades were on board the spaceship.

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

The presence of Earth life on the moon is troublesome, according to Open University professor of planetary and space sciences Monica Grady. Spacecraft leaving Earth are required to leave the environment as they found it and not leave behind any contaminates, according to the Outer Space Treaty.

“You might say it was broken in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were there, which is true, but since then we’ve become much more aware of how we should preserve these planetary bodies. I don’t think anybody would have got permission to distribute dehydrated tardigrades over the surface of the moon. So it’s not a good thing.”