According to new sources, later this year a Russian spacecraft will set its sights on the Martian moon Phobos, where it will scrape samples for further study. At least ten of the world’s toughest organisms will be going along for the ride in this pioneering experiment sponsored by the nonprofit Planetary Society. In a project specifically designed to determine whether life can tolerate the deadly hazards of space for three years, three of each of the 10 chosen organisms will ride inside individual polymer containers.
The quarter-pound biomodule that houses the organisms simulates the conditions they would encounter and many of the “passengers” have their own built-in protections, such as hard seed coats and the spores that bacteria form in response to hostile environments. The organisms are partially shielded from radiation by the biomodule’s titanium housing, which is the same protection they would have if traveling on a meteor. It is, however, specifically designed to cushion them during the return to Earth in 2012.
The spacecraft will drop the module containing the organisms and the samples into the atmosphere when it returns. There will be no parachutes as Russian scientists are depending on air resistance and a layer of material in the module’s base to help absorb the impact.
Some of the “bacterial creatures” making this arduous journey include: Hypsibius dujardini, Deinococcus radiodurans and Arabidopsis thaliana. The first is also known as the water bear,. This 1 mm critter has the incredible ability to suspend all biological activity when exposed to extreme environments, reactivating when conditions are better. The second is considered “the world’s toughest bacterium” according to the Guiness Book of Records (and they ought to know). It has been known to survive exposure to radiation, frigid cold, drought and acid. Arabidopsis thaliana is a small flowering plant native to Europe, Asia and northwestern Africa.
Formidable organisms, but I am quite sure that none of them would have survived even one encounter with my former in-laws!
Have a safe trip, you organisms, you!