Thursday, September 11, 2008

Living in Space

It’s a well known fact that exposure to the harsh vacuum of space will cause the human body to expand grotesquely before exploding in a cascade of guts and chum. But no matter how well known this fact is, the fact remains that it’s not a fact at all. In fact, humans and some other animals can survive in space for minutes at a time before our blood bubbles and our heat radiates away. That’s a fact. Bacteria and other simple organisms can survive much longer, handling the pressure of pressurelessness quite well. But an experiment by scientists at Kristianstad University in Sweden has discovered the first complex animal that can survive in space. They strapped two species of tardigrades (also known as water bears), microscopic animals that live in lichens and mosses all over the world, onto the European Space Agency’s Foton M3 orbital mission. One species was exposed to the vacuum of space only, while the other was additionally exposed to UV radiation. Turns out both species were able to survive, though the UV-exposed ones had a significantly higher casualty rate. This is promising news for those interested in space seed theory, which posits that life forms from other planets in the solar system could potentially hitch a ride on a rock and find their way to Earth. This is not to be confused with “Space Seed Theory”, which is the notion that the first appearance of Khan was the greatest Star Trek episode ever. More details here.

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