Scientists have known for a while that if you put harmful bacteria into outer space, they tend to get even more harmful. Since that discovery, researchers have been itching to know if the zero gravity and radiation of space will have similar effects on beneficial bacteria. With Monday’s launch of Endeavor, scientists can finally try to answer that question: alongside the astronauts, NASA launched the first ever space-faring cephalopod, along with the bioluminescent microbe with which it has a symbiotic relationship, to see if their relationship can stand the stresses of space travel. “This is the first [study] to look at beneficial bacteria” in space, lead researcher Jamie Foster told New Scientist.
The Squid and the Microbe:
Soon after baby bobtail squids ( Euprymna scolopes) hatch, a glowing microbe known as Vibrio fischeri starts living inside their light organs. Squids use these glowing hitchhikers to shine light underneath them when they’re hunting, hiding their shadow so they can more easily sneak up on prey.
Taking advantage of this symbiotic relationship, NASA launched newborn squids into space that had yet to come into contact with the microbe. Once in space for 14 hours, astronauts will add the bacteria to the squidlets, allowing them to encounter each other for 28 hours before the baby squids are killed and sent back to Earth for further analysis.