Tardigrades: Meet one of nature’s toughest animals

Take a look at the first animal to survive in outer space

The tardigrade is sturdy enough to handle anything. These small yet robust animals, just half a millimetre (0.02 inches) long, can be found anywhere from the beyond freezing conditions of the South Pole to the high pressures of the ocean floor.

What’s more, they can survive more than ten years without food or water, in conditions just above absolute zero to over 150 degrees Celsius. Scientists call such hardy creatures extremophiles. Being so tough makes the tardigrade the perfect astronaut and, in 2007, a group of these so-called ‘water bears’ made the journey into space aboard the European Space Agency’s Foton-M3 mission.

True to form, these resilient creatures withstood the harsh combination of extremely low pressure, cold temperatures and intense radiation – capable of damaging DNA – with only slight signs of wear and tear when they returned to Earth ten days later.

The tardigrade became the first animal to survive exposure to space. Another group of tardigrade astronauts then headed into space onboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour to visit the International Space Station as part of Project BIOKIS, which among other things sought to learn more about how these creatures can naturally defend themselves from the extreme stresses caused by the conditions in space.

The tardigrade is unbelievably tough, and is one of the few organisms capable of surviving outer space


For more incredible facts, make sure you pick up the latest copy of How It Works. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, make sure you subscribe today!

Plus, take a look at:

NASA signs up Space X to take astronauts to the ISS

Real-life zombie animals: Meet the walking dead of the animal kingdom

The Giant Magellan Telescope: Will it unlock the secrets of the universe and find alien life?