The open vacuum of space is the epitome of a harsh environment. Aside from the obvious lack of oxygen, there are also the problems of weightlessness, extreme cold and both solar and cosmic radiation. But one group of animals stands a very good chance of surviving these conditions – the tardigrades.
Tardigrades, or water bears, are small, aquatic and unfeasibly cute critters. They’re also strong contenders for the title of world’s hardest animal. They can enter a dry, dormant state that allows them to withstand extreme heat, temperatures close to absolute zero, poisonous gases and radiation doses 300 times greater than what would kill a man.
Over the last two weeks, a group of tardigrades aboard a Russian satellite have been exposed to their toughest challenge yet – the open vacuum of space. The satellite is part of the Tardigrades in Space (TARDIS) project, and it landed back on Earth today. Now, a team of Swedish scientists will see if they survived.