Tardigrades: Water bears in space
In 2007, a little known creature called a tardigrade became the first animal to survive exposure to space.
It prevailed over sub-zero temperatures, unrelenting solar winds and an oxygen-deprived space vacuum.
On Monday, this microscopic cosmonaut has once again hitched a ride into space on the Nasa shuttle Endeavour.
Its mission: to help scientists understand more about how this so-called “hardiest animal on Earth” can survive for short periods off it.
Tardigrades earned the “hardiest animal on earth” tag having evolved elaborate dormancy strategies that allow them to shut down all but the essential biological processes when conditions are not conducive to supporting life.
"Tardigrades can be found all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from high mountains to deserts, in urban areas and backyard gardens," he explained.
"In terrestrial environments, they always require at least a film of water surrounding their bodies to perform activities necessary for life."
But if these conditions change, tardigrades are capable of entering an extreme form of resting called cryptobiosis.
In this state, they are capable of withstanding freezing, a process called cryobiosis, and desiccation, a process called anhydrobiosis.