Written by Madhav Bahl, a grade 9 student.
A NASA payload of 128 glow-in-the-dark baby squids and 5000 hardy tardigrades left for the International Space Station on June 3rd this year. This unusual cargo is part of an experiment to understand how long-haul spaceflights can be made safe and sustainable for humans.
But, why squids?
It is said that in science people can find the best ways by some very questionable methods. Recent news has raised many eyebrows but if it succeeds, it would be a breakthrough-a step closer to space travel. NASA has sent baby squids. Baby squids! You may wonder why?
Well, we know that even though humans have stepped out into space, the conditions in space are still very foreign to us. We need to explore these conditions, and to do that safely we need to first try and test on animals. It is exactly like a test trial for new medicine which is first tried on small mammals and then tested on humans. So, NASA has sent 128 glow-in-the-dark baby squids and some 5,000 tardigrades to understand the effect of microgravity on animal-microbe interactions.
What is NASA?
National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA is a government agency in the United States of America that conducts space and aeronautics research, space exploration programmes, and satellite management.
Tardigrade! What’s that?
Tardigrade is a segmented microscopic animal also called a water bear or moss piglet. It has eight legs like a spider and grows around 0.5mm as an adult. Tardigrades can survive in extreme environments. Here’s a superb video on them.
What’s the destination?
NASA has dispatched 128 baby squids and around 5000 tardigrades to the International Space Station. They travelled aboard Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the 22nd cargo resupply mission to the ISS (The International Space Station).
SpaceX is an American aerospace company founded by Elon Musk. A space station is essentially a large spacecraft that remains in the orbit above the Earth. It is like a large laboratory in space and allows astronauts to come aboard and stay for weeks or months to carry out experiments in zero gravity.
Why conduct these experiments?
“Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth,” said Thomas Boothby, the lead scientist on this project.
These experiments will help us get a better understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the beneficial interactions between microbes and animals. The human body hosts millions of microbes that keep it in good health. Scientists are keen to understand how long spaceflights might alter these interactions. Squid’s immune system is similar to ours.
Microorganisms’ tardigrades’ ability to withstand intense pressure, and radiation, and even survive in a vacuum might teach us some survival tricks too. Scientists will study how microbes react with the host body in space. If the results are good we not only improve our chances of surviving long space voyages, but we might find new ways of gaining immunity from various diseases here on Earth as well.
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