There could be thousands of tiny, almost indestructible creatures living on the Moon right now.
When Israel's private lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the lunar surface, it was carrying a box full of tardigrades—microscopic creatures that are the only known living thing capable of surviving the extreme vacuum of outer space.
And Nova Spivack, founder of the Arch Mission Foundation, who paid to have the tardigrades on the spacecraft, has now told Wired magazine that he believes they survived.
The tardigrades were part of a "lunar library" that Spivack's foundation had put together. According to Wired, the package was about the size of a DVD and contained human DNA—including Spivack's own—as well as 30 million pages of information on mankind's knowledge and thousands of dehydrated tardigrades.
Tardigrades are known as one of the toughest creatures on Earth. They are microscopic, measuring about 0.012 to 0.020 inches in length, and can withstand temperatures of up to 304 degrees Fahrenheit and can survive being frozen alive. One tardigrade is known to have survived being frozen for 30 years. They can also live without water for up to a decade by shriveling up and placing themselves in a state of suspended animation—a trait DARPA is currently studying in the hope of preserving soldiers injured on the battlefield.
Arch Mission Foundation is a private non-profit that wants to develop a "backup of planet Earth" by "preserving the knowledge and biology of our planet in a solar system wide project called The Billion Year Archive," a statement from the company says.
Its lunar library was placed on board Israel's Beresheet lunar lander—which was the first privately funded mission to the moon. The spacecraft took off on February 22 and it attempted landing on the lunar surface of April 11. The mission was a failure, however, with the spacecraft crashing down after a gyroscope failed during the braking procedure.
"For the first 24 hours we were just in shock," Spivack told Wired. "We sort of expected that it would be successful. We knew there were risks but we didn't think the risks were that significant." However, he told the magazine that after analyzing the spacecraft's trajectory and the lunar library's composition, they believe with a good level of confidence that the payload survived the crash—possibly entirely intact. "Ironically, our payload may be the only surviving thing from that mission," he said.
Whether the tardigrades survived is unknown—but Spivack said if they did, there is no risk of the creatures taking over the Moon as they would need to be revived by future humans that may find them.
The Arch Mission Foundation is now planning its next lunar payload and will be calling for DNA samples as part of its next crowdfunding campaign this fall, Wired reports.
The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates which countries have visited the Moon.
This article was updated to include an infographic.