Woops! Lunar spacecraft dumps micro-animals on the moon

Photo via Wired

Photo via Wired

Just before midnight on April 11th, the Arch Mission Foundation’s lunar spacecraft crashed into the moon’s surface and released thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades stored onboard.

Nova Spivack, founder of the Arch Mission Foundation, had the primary goal of creating “a backup of planet Earth” by establishing a “lunar library,” which contained 30 million pages of information, human DNA samples, and thousands of tardigrades that could survive in space.

“We sort of expected that [the mission] would be successful,” Spivack says. “We knew there were risks but we didn’t think the risks were that significant.”

After analyzing the spacecraft’s trajectory into the moon’s surface, Spivack says he is confident that the lunar library remained mostly intact, and that the DNA samples and tardigrades stored with the library may have been the defining factor in its survival.

Even though there might not be access to water on the moon, the tardigrades are incredibly dexterous organisms. “We believe the chances of survival for the tardigrades… are extremely high,” says Spivack.

When dried out, tardigrades enter a deep state of suspended animation, similar to a temporary death. If they are reintroduced to water decades later, it is possible for them to reanimate.

Fortunately, it is perfectly legal for tardigrades to reside on the moon.

Created in 1967, the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty states that, “States shall not place…weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies…States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.”

Because tardigrades have not been deemed a threat to the moon’s surface and aren’t considered weapons of mass destruction, the Arch Mission Foundation has managed to escape legal troubles.

Spivack still plans to send more lunar libraries in the future, and the Arch Mission Foundation will be launching a crowdfunding campaign this fall which will contain DNA from volunteers and various endangered species.

“Our job, as the hard backup of this planet, is to make sure that we protect our heritage—both our knowledge and our biology. We sort of have to plan for the worst,” says Spivack.

For now, the tardigrades aren’t a determined threat to the moon’s surface or any other countries’ space missions, and there has been no determined action on the part of the Arch Mission Foundation regarding the tardigrades in the near future.