In early April, an Israeli lunar lander called Beresheet suffered a crash into the surface of the moon. The project would have made Israel the fourth country to reach the moon’s surface and been the first privately-owned lander to do so.
Unfortunately, engine failure caused the lander to crash upon its final approach. Now, experts think the accident may have left life on the moon. The ship was carrying thousands of tardigrades, microscopic animals, at the time of the crash.
Many people have never heard of a tardigrade. Affectionately known as “water bears,” these hearty creatures are some of the most resilient in the world. In fact, they’ve even been found thriving on the outside of the International Space Station.
Of course, since they were on board the lander during the crash, they are presumably somewhere on the moon’s surface.
This disaster has left many wondering why tardigrades were present at all. The answer lies in the fact that the lander was partnered with the Arch Mission Foundation. Part of the organization’s goal is to send archives of humanity’s collective knowledge across the solar system.
Some may recognize the name since Arch Mission launched its first archive in the glovebox of Starman’s Tesla during SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy test.
The archive sent up in Israel’s lunar lander contained a library of more than 30 million pages of human knowledge along with DNA samples, and, of course, tardigrades.
Life on the Moon
Following the crash, scientists fear that tardigrades may have survived and now reside on the moon’s surface. Although it is impossible to know for sure without sending a team to investigate, Arch Mission Foundation believes there is a good chance the creatures did persevere.
Fortunately, tardigrades won’t be taking over the moon any time soon. Though thousands were aboard the ill-fated lander, they were dehydrated before being added to the archive. Tardigrades in this state slow down their metabolic processes. During this time, a protein replaces water within their cells that essentially turns them into glass.
Though scientists could potentially rehydrate the crashed tardigrades one day, there is a good chance they will remain dormant forever. The moon simply doesn’t have the conditions necessary to spontaneously support life and thus can’t truly be contaminated. In fact, NASA’s Apollo astronauts left a hundred bags of feces behind before coming back to Earth. Of course, no bacterial monsters have arisen from the waste.
While the crash that spewed tardigrades across the moon’s surface was unfortunate, it probably won’t turn into anything other than a failed mission. However, it is a good reminder for those planning colonization trips to Mars as there is a much higher risk for contamination there. In the meantime, Israel and Arch Mission Foundation will head back to the drawing board to try another lunar landing.