We May Have Accidentally Sent Thousands Of Earth's Hardiest Species To The Surface Of The Moon

3D-rendered illustration of a tardigrade. 3Dstock/Shutterstock

Israel’s failed lunar landing Beresheet earlier this year represented a squashed opportunity that would have made the nation the fourth to successfully land on the moon and the first to do so with a privately funded spacecraft.

Contained on the lunar lander was a 100-gram nanotechnology device compiled by the Arch Mission Foundation, a non-profit organization and self-proclaimed "humanity's backup plan" to archive "knowledge and species of Earth for future generations." According to the organization’s white paper, the Arch Lunar Library was designed to “preserve the records of our civilization for up to billions of years”. But that dream was soon squashed when the landing failed. 

Now, a new analysis of the lander’s trajectory and satellite images suggests that the library contents remain intact on the surface of the moon. Contained within its 25 layers of nickel is “enough DNA to regenerate life on Earth” in the form of 100 million human cells from 25 different humans now preserved in artificial amber.

“But this is only the beginning of the story – there is in fact much more in the Lunar Library. This will be revealed in coming months and years,” wrote the Arch Mission in a news release.

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Among those surprises are a few thousand dehydrated tardigrades, or water bears, that in theory could be revived. These eight-legged micro-animals are found across our entire home planet and are nearly indestructible, surviving some of the most extreme conditions, including temperatures between -272°C and 150°C. Small and segmented, the 1-millimeter-long water bears are also extremely resilient to radiation and can survive without water for a decade. Some experts speculate that tardigrades could outlive us all and survive until the end of the Earth. In 2007, the European Space Agency sent 3,000 of the micro-animals into low-Earth orbit – they survived for 12 days outside of the capsule. 

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Some are sealed in the epoxy of the lunar library with human, plant, and microorganism cells, while others are encapsulated on a sticky side of 1-centimeter square tape. Regardless of their disc-bound location, Arch Mission founder Nova Spivack says that the tardigrades cannot reproduce on the moon.  

The Arch Mission Foundation says that it is “mindful of Planetary Protection” and would not send anything to a “location with an atmosphere". It notes that the moon is already home to nearly 100 bags of human waste left by Apollo astronauts, as well as a small plant that was left there by China. 

Image of the microscopic tardigrade (Hypsibius vaskelae). Wikimedia Commons

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More than 1,000 GB of compressed datasets are held within the discs. The outermost layer is visible to the human eye and shows how to access the following layers. The Lunar Library/Arch Mission Foundation 

 

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