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Failed Israeli lunar lander Beresheet had a secret biological payload

By Cal Jeffrey · 27 replies
Aug 16, 2019
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  1. Back in February, Israeli space startup SpaceIL launched a lunar lander, called Beresheet, on a SpaceX rocket. It would be the nation’s first attempt at landing a vessel on the moon. However, in April, the craft crashed while trying to land and ended the mission.

    The lander carried a NASA cargo of equipment to measure the moon’s magnetosphere. It also had some reflectors that would have allowed scientists to take precise measurements of the distance between the Earth and its only natural satellite.

    In addition to the NASA cargo, a US nonprofit called the Arch Mission Foundation had stowed a 30-million-page digital library of human knowledge onboard the vessel. The organization’s objective is to establish a digital and biological “backup of planet Earth” in space. The library of information was declared and approved by mission officials.

    What was not declared or approved, was a payload containing human DNA and a cache of microscopic organisms called tardigrades, also known as water bears. While it is not technically against international guidelines to send bio-matter into space or to the moon, no governing body was even made aware of the cargo.

    “We didn’t tell them we were putting life in this thing,” Arch Mission Foundation co-founder Nova Spivack told Mashable. “Space agencies don’t like last-minute changes. So we just decided to take the risk.”

    He had not initially planned to send DNA, or the water bears up on Beresheet. Those plans were slated for future missions. However, a few weeks before Spivack was to deliver the digital library to SpaceIL, he and another engineer decided to go ahead. They stowed hair follicles, blood samples, dehydrated tardigrades, and a few other samples of genetic Earth-bound bio-matter packed in resin between the plates of the digital library.

    When Beresheet crashed, there was a moment of shock.

    “For the first 24 hours we were just in shock,” said Spivack. “We sort of expected that it would be successful. We knew there were risks, but we didn’t think the risks were that significant.”

    Wired notes that Spivack’s initial fear was that they had just contaminated the moon with a foreign organism. Although most organic lifeforms could not survive on the moon, water bears are known to thrive in extreme environments including vacuums. Whether water bears could survive the radiation is unclear, but as they are in a dormant dehydrated state and encased in resin. There is no chance they will be revived without human intervention.

    As previously noted, Spivack did not break any international rules, and no penalties are forthcoming thus far. However, the FAA has some jurisdiction over the matter as does the US State Department. The FAA said it was “looking into” it, and the State Department declined to comment.

    "Technically, I’m the first space pirate," Spivack quipped.

    The incident does raise some questions about what exactly is okay to send to space and who gets to decide. It’s not a question that has not been asked before, but nobody has come up with an answer that has not been hotly debated.

    Permalink to story.

  2. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,821   +2,666

    Mark Watney would like a word.
  3. ThrakazogZ

    ThrakazogZ TS Enthusiast Posts: 22   +31

    Technically, the first space pirate that was caught.

    Does anyone believe someone hasn't already sent or brought something into space (covertly), that they weren't supposed to ?
  4. Nobina

    Nobina TS Evangelist Posts: 2,038   +1,556

    Why is his name bare sht?
  5. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,680   +4,025

    Lions & Tigers & Water Bears ..... oh my!
    dms96960 likes this.
  6. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 834   +729

    What an a-hole. Good job attempting to contaminate the moon with your Bears***, Spivack.

    "...we didn’t think the risks were that significant." What level of profound stupidity does it take to put someone in charge who is so vapidly daft to use an excuse from *ignorance* about how risky space travel is.

    At least this makes it an easy assumption that the biological samples included were so ignorantly mishandled that they were utterly destroyed in the process and therefore useless.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2019
    mbrowne5061 and PEnnn like this.
  7. Polycount

    Polycount TS Evangelist Posts: 1,885   +409

    Poor little fellas.
    TsVkK and Fimbulvetr like this.
  8. funnylooking

    funnylooking TS Rookie

    Someone needs a hug
  9. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 834   +729

    Nah, just bored on a Friday. I do like getting my dander up sometimes though! Cheers!
  10. scavengerspc

    scavengerspc TS Enthusiast Posts: 34   +29

    My Christ human idiocy and hubris knows no bounds.
  11. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,886   +707

    I guess not
  12. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 4,192   +2,476

    Wow! Is this crowd ever fired up. :confused: Sounds like it is very probable that they are all dead at this point https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade They are also harmless and virtually everywhere. The next time you pick up a handful of dirt, you've abducted a bunch of water bears! :laughing:
    TsVkK likes this.
  13. McMurdeR

    McMurdeR TS Addict Posts: 156   +121

    Stupidest smart people alive?
  14. Adi6293

    Adi6293 TS Maniac Posts: 259   +237

    I dont see a big deal here, space doesn't belong to anyone neither does the moon so we can send whatever we want up there......
  15. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 834   +729

    The point is not to biologically contaminate space if we can possibly avoid it. Early in the space race this wasn't a concern but now we're more aware of the possibilities. On the Moon it probably will not be a concern but if anything biological from Earth makes it's way to a more hospitable place like Enceladus or Europa, that could be a disaster.
  16. Adi6293

    Adi6293 TS Maniac Posts: 259   +237

    Disaster in what way? Its not like competitive race would develop in any of our life time or humans life time on earth all together so its all good :)
  17. arrowflash

    arrowflash TS Enthusiast Posts: 55   +45

  18. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 834   +729

    It's about not contaminating a place which might have life which developed on it's own, separate from Earth's. We have a single example of the origination of life in the universe, it'd be nice* if we could find another without contaminating it with our type of life.

    * nice. As in: one of the biggest discoveries in the history of science.
    MarkHughes likes this.
  19. quadibloc

    quadibloc TS Booster Posts: 93   +55

    It certainly is true, though, that tardigrades can only survive on the Moon by going into a dormant state, as the article notes - so only a very small area of the Moon, where the capsule crashed, is contaminated.

    Of course, this is good material for Star Trek: Discovery jokes.
  20. quadibloc

    quadibloc TS Booster Posts: 93   +55

    It's true, this is the Moon. Which, almost certainly, is utterly lifeless as far as any life of its own is concerned. But if someone had done this on a space probe to Mars, they could possibly have destroyed native life existing on Mars, that, by being a truly alien form of life, might have enabled scientists by studying it to gain a vastly clearer understanding of the fundamentals of life.

    Maybe to cure cancer and do stuff like that with this knowledge. That's why any irresponsibility with regard to biological contamination of other planets is to be condemned harshly.
  21. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 4,192   +2,476

    Take the time to read the wikipedia link I posted. 63% of tardigrades exposed to the vacuum and radiation of space died. That they can survive indefinitely in space exposed to vacuum and radiation is a myth. Its simple physics. Bombard matter with radiation, and it degrades - especially organic matter. The Moon is one place that has no radiation shielding. The temperatures are extreme, too, and the wikipedia link cites research of exposing tardigrades to high temperatures - they die after 20 days.
    I'll say it again - its simple physics. Given existing research, they have been sterilized by radiation exposure on the Moon at this point, and even the resin will not protect them.

    Who ever said that they can survive the radiation of space has no clue about the real science that has been done with tardigrades - they die in those extreme conditions. Period! End of BS story.
  22. x925x

    x925x TS Rookie

    It probably happened in the space race during one of the first few launches, my question is, what happened to it.
  23. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 834   +729

    Which is why I said above:

    "On the Moon it probably will not be a concern"
  24. jpuroila

    jpuroila TS Enthusiast Posts: 79   +44

    Sounds like they need to be slapped with a few billion dollar fine.
  25. TsVkK

    TsVkK TS Booster Posts: 34   +20

    Scientists send some biological matter to an irradiated dead rock, world&dog reacts.

    Scientists regret ever telling anyone. Some things are better off left unsaid.

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