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Squid and water bears blast off into space bound for International Space Station

Charlotte Edwards, June 7, 2021 6:45PM The Sun

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The animals are bound for the International Space Station, seen here from the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery (with the Earth in the background) after it separated from the ISS. Picture: NASA media_cameraThe animals are bound for the International Space Station, seen here from the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery (with the Earth in the background) after it separated from the ISS. Picture: NASA

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Five thousand water bears and 128 glow-in-the-dark baby squid left Earth for space on Thursday.

NASA’s special animal cargo was aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, bound for the International Space Station.

Astronauts onboard the ISS will study the squid and water bears, also called tardigrades.

Baby bobtail squid have been chosen because of how their bodies work together with the bacteria inside them to make them glow.

The 3mm-long creatures could help us understand how beneficial bacteria interact with animal tissue* in a space environment.

A baby bobtail squid like the ones being sent to space. Picture: Getty media_cameraA baby bobtail squid like the ones being sent to space. Picture: Getty

Jamie Foster, a microbiologist* at the University of Florida, US, and principal investigator of the Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions experiment, said: “Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes* to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system.

“We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions.”

The squid are frozen for the flight and then thawed out for the experiments.

Baby bobtail squid don’t contain the symbiotic bacteria because they usually acquire it after they are born from the ocean around them.

Researchers plan to add the bacteria to the squid when they arrive at the ISS and see how the two interact.

They’ll then study the molecules produced and the genes that the squid turn on and off in order to make the most out of the bacteria.

This could help us understand human gut health in space and the relationship between space travel, bacteria and the immune system.

Resembling miniature underwater caterpillars, tardigrades boast teeny claws at the end of their legs, hence their "water bear"  nickname. media_cameraTardigrades — nicknamed water bears because they look like mini underwater bears — can survive in Earth’s most extreme environments.

The water bear experiment will focus on how the 1mm creatures survive in the high-stress environment of space.

They’re already known for surviving stressful situations on Earth.

Thomas Boothby, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming, US and principal investigator for the experiment, said: “Some of the things that tardigrades can survive include being dried out, being frozen and being heated up past the boiling point of water.

“They can survive thousands of times as much radiation as we can and they can go for days or weeks with little or no oxygen.

“They’ve been shown to survive and reproduce during spaceflight, and can even survive prolonged* exposure to the vacuum of outer space.”

Assistant Prof Boothby’s study will focus on how tardigrades adapt to life in low Earth orbit.

The creatures could help us learn how to protect astronaut health during long space missions.

media_cameraA composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits across the Sun on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Maryland, US. Picture: AFP/NASA/Bill Ingalls

ISS FAST FACTS
The International Space Station is a large spacecraft that orbits Earth

Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it

It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000

People have lived on the ISS continuously since 2000

NASA uses the station to learn about living and working in space

It is approximately 400km above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite

Living inside the ISS is like living in a big house. It has five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth

This story was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.

GLOSSARY

  • tissue: material that is part of the human body (or of another animal or of a plant), such as skin, organs, muscle
  • microbiologist: scientist who studies microbes
  • microbes: tiny living things (such as bacteria) we can only see with a microscope
  • prolonged: going on longer than is normal

EXTRA READING

Tardigrades found with glowing blue UV shield

Herd of Earth’s toughest animals left on Moon

Colourful dreams of a sleeping octopus

Worms and mice at International Space Station

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What two creatures are going into space?
  2. Where are they going?
  3. Why are they going into space?
  4. What is the name of the rocket?
  5. Share three facts about the ISS.

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Design a Space Suit
Design a space suit for a squid and a tardigrade.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Design and Technologies, Science

2. Extension
The tardigrade is known for being able to survive very stressful situations. Imagine that you are a tardigrade. Write a list of your Top Tips for Human Kids to Survive Stressful Situations.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Science, Personal and Social Capability

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read with Kung Fu Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.

Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.

Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.

Have 2 turns each.

Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?

Swap over?

Try acting out 2 sentences.

Are you laughing yet?

Have fun acting out your punctuation.

Extra Reading in space