First Animal to Survive in Space


We’ve been sending creatures up
into space for a long time. And tardigrades, among other
microorganisms, are special in that they can withstand these
extremes of temperature. So they decided, well, let’s see
if they can withstand the real vacuum. And the perfect vacuum
is in space. As we send tardigrades
into space, the question has to arise– maybe tardigrades came
from space, if they can withstand it. [THEME MUSIC] I consider myself
a naturalist. I’ve been called a naturalist
in a classical sense, which, for example– and I’m not
comparing myself– but Charles Darwin was a naturalist. He made a contribution
to science. So basically, I’m just an
ordinary person, and I like nature, like most people do. And being in nature sort of
wants to make me study it a little bit more. I wanted to make a contribution
to science– modestly. I didn’t think I’d do anything
great, but something. Maybe something that somebody
hadn’t done. And in just looking for various
things to do, the word tardigrade came up. Didn’t even really know what
a tardigrade was till I looked into it. So tardigrades are little
microscopic creatures. They’re about a millimeter
or less in size. They’re very tiny. Basically, it’s a little
caterpillar-like creature. Looks like a caterpillar
with eight legs. And it has claws which
look like bear claws. That’s why it’s called
a water bear. They have a mouth. They have a digestive tract. They have muscles. They have a nervous system,
so they’re similar to us in that way. They’re like insects
in that they have that hard-shell skin. They reproduce with eggs, and
then they molt their skin and they use their whole body
to facilitate digestion. We don’t really know
how they evolved. We can’t even guess. We don’t know what other species
they’re related to, because they’re so different. And of course, their ability
to withstand– as far as heat, they can survive
120 degrees Celsius, which is 240 degrees
Fahrenheit. 200 or 300 degrees below 0,
vacuum of space, 1,000 atmospheres of pressure, x-rays,
ultraviolet radiation. So tardigrades can survive
all of these extremes. Now, if you’re looking for
tardigrades and you want to find a good habitat, trees like
this, which have deep furrows in the bark, are best. So tardigrades have gone into
space, where there’s a perfect vacuum, and also there’s a lot
of solar radiation and ultraviolet and x-ray
radiation in space. And it’s very intense. It’s something more than we
can create here on earth. So that was a great way to test
them, and they came back and survived. [JAZZY ELECTRONICA MUSIC] Did tardigrades come
from space? Anything is possible. We might have come from
another galaxy. The problem is distances across
space are so large, and even if you’re traveling as fast
as anything can travel, which is the speed of light, it
would take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to
go from one galaxy or one planet to another. So in that timeframe,
anything can happen. You can’t colonize
planets that way. Not now– not as
far as we know. So the answer right now is,
anything is possible. I don’t have a personal
theory about it. Do I believe in extraterrestrial
life– that life exist outside
this planet? Yeah, I do believe that. Just because I believe in
odds and possibilities. And because the universe
is infinite. If you can just grasp that,
which is hard enough to do. There might be other forms of
life right under our noses, such as tardigrades, which are
right here, which did come from other planets. We don’t know that, though. When I did a little research
on it, I found out there wasn’t really that much known
about tardigrades. In fact, I read one scientific
paper and found that New Jersey, the state I was living
at the time, had zero tardigrades showing
on the map. So I said, well, let’s see
if I can a tardigrade. I visited all 21 counties in
New Jersey and found that tardigrades are ubiquitous,
which means they’re everywhere. So I wrote a scientific paper,
found various species, took photographs, identified
the trees– their habitat. And that paper will
be published soon. It’s being reviewed now by
one of the prominent tardigradologists. And perhaps have even found a
new species of tardigrade, so that’s under review now. I’ve sent my slides
off for analysis. Now, wait a second. This could also be a good
tardigrade habitat. This is just ordinary moss. You just take a piece of moss
out and place it into a coin envelope or a paper bag. And what you’ll find is, even
though it’s dry right now, once you rehydrate it,
tardigrades will appear. So we’re going to place this
moss into the envelope. How do tardigrades go into
what’s called cryptobiosis or suspended animation? I mean, that’s pretty
fascinating. They just curl up into
a little ball. They create a very hard shell,
and somehow, some way, within, there’s a seed of moisture,
a molecule of water, that preserves them inside
this encrustment. The lifespan of a tardigrade,
if it was just moving around in the water and you were
observing it, might be the only 6 months. But because it dries out,
rehydrates, dries out, rehydrates, dries out,
rehydrates– this could be done over a period
of many, many years. This is how they preserve
themselves. Sometimes, they can be 100
years old that way. [JAZZY ELECTRONICA MUSIC] [SPEAKING WITH SCOTTISH
ACCENT] Now there’s a wee little
tardigrade for you. So what we want to do
is actually get to look at him close-up. We’ll change this objective to a
tighter, more powerful lens. OK. Now let’s see close-up
how he looks. [JAZZY ELECTRONICA MUSIC] So when you’re looking through
the microscope and you’re seeing this little tardigrade
moving around in his environment, he’s
in the moment. He’s in the now. He’s not thinking about
the future. He’s not thinking
about the past. All he’s doing is living and
enjoying the present moment. So if we can be more
like that– I’m not saying, let’s
be like tardigrades. But what I am saying is, if we
can learn acceptance, I think everybody will be
a lot happier. And I know I’ve been a lot
happier since I’ve accepted and embraced life as it is. [JAZZY ELECTRONICA MUSIC]

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