NASA is sending water bears and bobtail squid to the International Space Station, “as NASA researchers attempt to learn more about how the conditions of spaceflight can affect biological organisms and, by extension, future astronauts,” writes Joe Hernandez via NPR. From the report: Tardigrades are microscopic organisms better known as “water bears” because of their shape and the fact that they commonly live in the water. (They have also been called, endearingly, “moss piglets.”) Water bears can survive in conditions that would prove fatal for most other animals, such as exposure to extreme temperatures, pressure, and radiation. The fact that they are basically indestructible, according to NASA, makes them the perfect test subjects for an experiment about the effects of spaceflight on biological survival.
Thousands of microbes live inside the human body and work to keep us healthy. But scientists don’t have a clear picture of how microgravity — which allows the kind of floating weightlessness experienced by astronauts when they travel into space — affects those microbes. That is the subject of an ongoing NASA research program called the Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions, or UMAMI. Scientists will study whether microgravity has an impact on the relationship between newly hatched bobtail squid, or Euprymna scolopes, and their symbiotic bacterium, Vibrio fischeri. The goal is to use what they learn about the relationship between squid and the microbes to help better prepare astronauts for lengthy space missions and preserve their health while they’re out there.