Bears in Space? Is this guy crazy? (Well, maybe) but for the most part, no! A recent experiment on board the ESA's FOTON-M3 spacecraft showed that a small creature known as a "water bear", similar to a sea monkey, can survive in the cold, hard vacuum of space! The water bear is a tiny six-legged creature, seen at right, and is also commonly known as a "tardigrade". These water bears work similarly to a sea monkey. When they are presented with extreme habitats (like space), they go into a death-like standby mode. Then when the conditions are right, they resume normal metabolism, literally coming right back to life.
The most interesting part of this is the fact that the water bears survived the radiation that is so strong in space. Even if the hard vacuum and near zero Kelvin temperatures didn't kill a living organism, the very strong radiation in space would kill almost instantly. Surprisingly enough, the water bears not only survived their trip through space, but were also still able to reproduce upon "thawing" from their 10-day adventure.
Of course, this has implications beyond the terrestrial biological news, too. This means that these little water bears could potentially survive a short trip through space. If it's possible for certain terrestrial creatures to survive in space, what does this mean for our perception of "life" in general? Is there perhaps microbial life that survives in harsh conditions on other worlds?
This is also huge news for the proponents of the "panspermia" theory of terrestrial biology. Panspermia basically theorizes that life did not evolve here on Earth, but rather elsewhere. Such life could then arrive as microbes on a meteoroid, and evolve from there. Microbes arriving on a meteoroid landing in water would have a higher chance of surviving the heat and impact. It is also very possible that such an organism could leave Earth on our spacecraft (accidentally or purposely) and "thaw" somewhere else (a sort of reverse panspermia). Could such a life form have existed before life here on Earth?
Share your thoughts on these theories in comments below, if you'd like!