They want to send tardigrades to other planets!

Many of us dream of traveling to the stars. And while the technology that will take humans beyond our solar system is not yet perfected, engineers are already working to send tiny probes there. Researchers even suggest today that it could be very enriching to integrate some rather special passengers…

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Only a few decades ago, sending humans into space seemed unachievable. Then there was Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong put the foot on the moon. Only a few years ago, this dream still seemed inaccessible to ordinary mortals. And there was Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. Today, some are even beginning to think about how life could soon leave its cradle. the Solar system. “I think it’s our destiny to keep exploring”, underlined in a communicated from the University of California at Santa Barbara (United States), Joel Rothman, co-author of a publication on this subject in the review of the Astronautical Act.

So, will life soon fly to the stars? ” Why not “, say the researchers today. But it will probably be, at first, very small beings on board spacecraft that are also very small. Because we cannot hide it. To reach the stars in chemical-powered spaceships would take forever. Voyager missions have already taken 40 years to achieve only the limits of our solar system. And it would take them no less than 80,000 years to reach the nearest stars.

Researchers at the University of California are working to develop miniature probes — StarChips, as engineers already call them — weighing no more than a gram, yet equipped with the necessary instrumentation to detect, collect and transmit data to Earth. But above all, propelled at about 30% of the speed of light using a beam laser. These craft could reach relativistic speeds and travel up to Poxima Centauri… in just twenty years! And they might be able to take small live radiation-resistant animals there. From tardigrades

Technical… and ethical issues

Researchers estimate that thousands of these creatures could be put to sleep on interstellar craft and reawakened once the goal has been reached. With the possibility for scientists to learn more about the effects of interstellar travel about life. “We could study the extent to which tardigrades remember behavior learned on Earth after traveling away from their home planet at near the speed of light and examine their metabolism, their physiology, their neurological function, their reproduction and their aging. Because most of the experiments that can be done on these animals in a lab can be done aboard StarChips as they traverse the cosmos.”, assure Joel Rothman.

The remaining objective of course is to understand the potential effects of interstellar travel on humans. Even if this dream should not materialize immediately. And that, by then, “we may have created more adapted life forms or hybrids person-machine more resistant. »

The researchers also do not lose sight of the ethical questions attached to this work of a somewhat particular kind. Some already consider that life could have been brought to Earth by comets. Or even, voluntarily, by a extraterrestrial civilization. So considering sending life forms to other stars — even just tardigrades — naturally raises questions. And even more general questions for some. Do we only have ” the right “ to send into space, microorganisms who didn’t ask? Or to later send human beings to destinations from which they may never return? Ethical questions may well be just as interesting as the scientific questions that accompany them…

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