Space research

Cargo of squid arrives at ISS for experiments on bacteria in space

This image released by NASA shows immature bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) that are to be part of an experiment being launched to the International Space Station on June 3, 2021, during a SpaceX resupply mission
This image released by NASA shows immature bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) that are to be part of an experiment being launched to the International Space Station on June 3, 2021, during a SpaceX resupply mission Jamie S. Foster AFP

A SpaceX rocket is expected to dock at the International Space Station on Saturday, carrying supplies for scientific experiments, including some squids and the virtually indestructible microorganisms known as tardigrades.

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The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket, leased by NASA, launched from Florida on Thursday with the Dragon command capsule carrying young specimens of the species Euprymna scolopes, known as bobtail squid.

Scientists are hoping to study the effect of zero gravity on the interactions between bacteria and their host organisms.

Some of the cephalopods will be exposed to bacteria once on board the ISS, while others will be left alone.

After 12 hours, the specimens are preserved until their return to Earth, where they will be studied.

Zero gravity experiments on microbial interaction

According to Jamie Foster, the principal investigator in the experiment: "Animals, including humans, rely on microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system. We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions."

The experiment could help scientists in the future to develop techniques to protect the health of astronauts participating in long-duration missions in space.

Also on board the SpaceX rocket will be tardigrades, also known as "water bears" -- microscopic organisms that can withstand extreme radiation, sizzling heat, the coldest temperatures of the universe and decades without food.

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.

Tardigrades on the moon?

An Israeli probe that was later revealed to be carrying tardigrades crash-landed on the Moon in 2019, and if they survived the explosion, scientists think they might still be alive today -- though no rescue mission is currently planned to bring them home.

"Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth," said scientist Thomas Boothby.

"One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts."

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