The Planetary Society welcomes home space shuttle Endeavour and the microscopic passengers it carried in Shuttle LIFE, an experiment designed to test aspects of the transpermia hypothesis -- the ability of microbial life to survive an interplanetary voyage.
"Welcome home Living Interplanetary Flight Experimental (LIFE) microbes and water bears!" said Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society. "Everyone on Earth wants to know if you were changed by your flight in space. We will carefully open the sample tubes, have a look, and report what you were up to up there."
Water bears, or tardigrades -- although no bigger than the head of a pin -- were the largest of the LIFE organisms to launch on Endeavour in the Planetary Society experiment. Shuttle LIFE will serve as a test run for Phobos LIFE, a larger collection of organisms that the Planetary Society will send on a three-year trip aboard a Russian spacecraft to the Martian moon Phobos and back to Earth in a capsule that will simulate a meteoroid. Phobos LIFE is set to launch in fall, 2011.