Eight-legged lunar colonists

we have just learned that the first non-human animals have already arrived on the Moon, as you can read in Materia. Unfortunately for them, they were traveling on the Israeli beresheet mission, which was stamped against the lunar ground at 700 kilometers per hour by a failure of the braking system. Chances are they died on impact, although no one can say for sure. The animals in question are called tardigrades (or water bears, or moss pigs), and despite these pseudonyms actually measure less than a millimeter and have eight legs. Their resistance to extreme conditions (dehydration, radiation, lack of oxygen) is such that it cannot be ruled out that they have survived the disaster and are now in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the situation to improve to revive. It is a sci-fi scenario, but it is not incompatible with the extraordinary biology of these primitive relatives of arthropods (insects, prawns, spiders).

Sending tardidgrades to the moon is surely a firefighter's idea, at least in the current state of space exploration. And the fireman seems to have acted alone. This is American entrepreneur Nova Spivak, 50, co-founder of the Arch Mission Foundation, an organization born in 2015 to spread repositories of human knowledge throughout the solar system. Last year it put into orbit a copy of Wikipedia. And he also placed a 30-million-page "moon library" on the Beresheet mission, which may remain intact after the ill-fated landing. What no one knew was that he had put several thousand live water bears in that same ship. And "no one" means no one: not even the scientific director of the mission, Oded Aharonson, knew that part of the shipment, as the Matter article reveals. Moreover, both Spivak and Beresheet's leaders have surrounded the matter of a shield of opacity worthy of a state secret. The first private mission to the Moon not only ended in shattering, but carried inside it a secret charge of living beings, cells and DNA samples from Spivak himself and two dozen other people selected by the tycoon

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The injection of private capital into space exploration is proving a breath of fresh air for space agencies, always depleted by budget cycling, but has also introduced a remarkable dose of arbitrariness for part of the capitalist partners who finance them. Fireman ideas. The occurrences of Elon Musk, founder of rocket firm Spacex and electric car factory Tesla, such as sending one of their cars into space, are well known. A more recent case, and more surrounded by dark fringes, is that of financier Jeffrey Epstein, now disgraced by sexually trafficking allegations hanging over his head,

The private initiative in space exploration is proving a breath of fresh air

Epstein's dream, reports The New York Times, was to spread its own DNA for the human species, by insemination women on its gigantic New Mexico ranch. "Women" can mean 14-year-old girls here. Epstein is a fervent practitioner of transhumanism, a kind of ideology that aims to improve the human population with the help of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. The best way to get an idea of the character is for Epstein to consider sowing humanity with his own DNA is a way to improvement of the species. But the Times also documents him as a compulsive liar, or a "serial illusionist." And that he managed to seduce part of the scientific elite, such as Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, discoverer of quarks; cosmologist and theorist Stephen Hawking; the evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould; neurologist Oliver Sacks; avant-garde geneticist George Church and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek. Scientists receive as May water any money to finance their projects,

and that, money, is what Epstein had on the door. So do Spivak, Musk and a few other visionary tycoons. The rest of the human species, and also the tardi ones, we only have to wait in a state of suspended animation for some millionaire to have the next idea of a firefighter,

* THE SCIENCE OF THE WEEK is a space in which Javier Sampedro analyzes the scientific topicality. Subscribe to the Materia newsletter and you will receive it every Saturday in your email, along with a selection of our best news of the week.