In an experiment that will surely bring tears to animal rights activists’ eyes, Ingemar Jönsson, of Kristianstad University in Sweden, sent up a few water bears (along with other even less lucky creatures) into space to see how they’d hold up to the vacuum, cold, and radiation. The water bears, technically called tardigrades, are actually tiny living creatures that can withstand some of the harshest environments on Earth, and so presented themselves as the most likely creatures to survive in open space.
From Nature News:
For ten days, the tardigrades were exposed to the radiation, vacuum and low temperature of space. R. coronifer did not fare terribly well — none survived when exposed to the full spectrum of ultraviolet radiation, which can be extremely damaging to DNA. But three specimens of M. tardigradum did.
And when some wavelengths of ultraviolet light were filtered out (those shorter than 280 nanometres or longer than 400 nanometres), eggs laid by space-faring Milnesium tardigradum hatched just as well as controls that had not been exposed to space vacuum or ultraviolet radiation. The results are published this week by Current Biology.