Can Tardigrades Survive in Space: 11 Ways They Can

This article will explore how can tardigrades survive in space, focusing on how they can endure the vacuum of outer space.

From surviving radiation and extreme temperatures to going decades without food or water, tardigrades continue to fascinate scientists with their superpowers.

Read on to learn more about these tiny superheroes of the animal kingdom.

1. Tardigrades Can Survive Exposure to the Vacuum of Space

colorized tardigrade
Photo By Steve Gschmeissner / Science Photo Library via Getty Images

In 2007, tardigrades became the first known Earth animal to survive in outer space when a group of them were exposed to the vacuum and radiation of low Earth orbit for 10 days. Around 68% of the tardigrades recovered after being rehydrated back on Earth. This research showed that tardigrades can tolerate the severely low pressures and high radiation of space, adding to their reputation as one of the hardiest animals on our planet.

2. Tardigrades Can Withstand Extreme Radiation

Tardigrades Can Withstand Radiation
Photo By Chemistry World

Tardigrades are remarkably resistant to radiation, capable of withstanding doses hundreds of times greater than what would be fatal for a human. In some studies, tardigrades have survived radiation at levels high enough to kill a person in minutes. Their resilience is due to efficient DNA repair mechanisms and substances that prevent radiation damage. Tardigrades show that life can endure conditions of high radiation, like those found beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

3. Tardigrades Can Survive Temperatures From Just Above Absolute Zero to Well Above the Boiling Point of Water

Tardigrades Can Withstand Extreme Radiation
Photo By Nicolas Delille

The tiny tardigrade is capable of withstanding an incredible temperature range that would be fatal to most other forms of life. At one extreme, tardigrades can survive being chilled for short periods to temperatures just a few degrees above absolute zero.

At the other extreme, some tardigrades can endure temperatures well above the boiling point of water, up to 151°C. Their resilience is due to unique proteins that prevent freezing and remove damaging heat energy. Tardigrades show that life can persist through both freezing cold and scorching heat, expanding the potential habitats for life to exist.

4. Tardigrades Can Survive Years Without Food or Water

Tardigrades Can Survive Years Without Food or Water
Photo By Kazuharu Arakawa and Hiroki Higashiyama, Keio University

Tardigrades have an incredible ability to endure long periods without sustenance. In a dried state known as cryptobiosis, their metabolism slows to less than 0.01% of normal and they can survive over a decade with no food or water. Their tun state allows tardigrades to outlast resource scarcity that would quickly kill most other organisms.

This suspended animation helps explain why tardigrades thrive in harsh habitats like Antarctic ice, deep-sea sediments, and arid deserts. The next time you think you’re hungry, remember the tiny tardigrade can go for years without a single bite to eat or drop to drink!

5. Tardigrades Have Been Found Living Over 3,000 Meters up in the Himalayas

Photo By National Geographic

The Himalayas contain some of the highest peaks on Earth, with elevations over 8,000 meters. Yet even in these extreme mountain heights, tardigrades manage to eke out an existence. Researchers have discovered active tardigrade communities at altitudes over 3,000 meters in the Himalayas.

At these elevations, bitter cold, intense UV radiation, and extremely low oxygen levels make survival challenging. But tardigrades persist in microhabitats like damp moss cushions and film water in the cracks of rocks. Their adaptations allow tardigrades to inhabit altitudes that would quickly prove fatal to most species. The resilience of these microscopic animals is astonishing.

6. There Are Over 1,300 Known Species of Tardigrades

Species of Tardigrades
Photo By University of Florida

The phylum Tardigrada contains a remarkable diversity of species. Researchers have identified over 1,300 different tardigrade species so far. And new species continue to be discovered all the time, especially in poorly explored habitats like deep-sea sediments. The exact number of tardigrade species on Earth remains unknown.

Some experts estimate there may be over 10,000 species yet to be documented. Tardigrades display a wide array of sizes, shapes, and survival strategies. Some species live in the water, while others inhabit terrestrial habitats like lichens or soil. There is still much to learn about these diverse microscopic animals. The full extent of tardigrade biodiversity has yet to be revealed.

7. Tardigrades Have Been Around for Over 500 Million Years

Tardigrade fossil
Photo By Jacki Whisenant

Tardigrades are an ancient group of animals with a long evolutionary history. Molecular evidence suggests they first emerged over 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Since then, tardigrades have survived through several major extinction events that wiped out many other species. Their longevity as a phylum is a testament to their adaptability.

Tardigrades have evolved a variety of strategies to endure extreme conditions, from cryptobiosis to rapid evolutionary adaptations. Their residence on Earth predates the dinosaurs by over 100 million years. Tardigrades may owe their staying power to their small size and lack of complexity. Their simple body plan has remained largely unchanged over the eons. These tiny, durable animals have persisted for ages and will likely continue to thrive for many more.

8. Tardigrades Can Withstand Pressure up to Six Times Greater Than Pressures Found in the Deepest Ocean

microscopic tardigrade
Photo By SciWorthy

The tiny tardigrade is incredibly resilient under intense pressure. They can endure over six times the crushing pressure found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth. While the pressure at the bottom of this ocean trench is over 1,000 times greater than sea level pressure, tardigrades have survived lab tests with pressures up to 6,000 atmospheres. Their secret lies in their lack of internal space and fluids.

Interestingly, since tardigrades have no air pockets or water inside their bodies, they can compress without getting crushed. Their internal structure momentarily deforms and then springs back once the pressure decreases. Consequently, this remarkable tolerance enables tardigrades to possibly thrive deep below a planet’s oceans, a place where most life forms would perish. Once again, the mighty tardigrade demonstrates its position as Earth’s toughest animal.

9. Tardigrades Can Survive Being Frozen for Over 30 Years

frozen tardigrade
Photo By Giovanni Cancemi / Shutterstock

Tardigrades are champions of cryopreservation, able to survive freezing for decades at a time. When temperatures drop, they enter a state called cryptobiosis and can remain completely motionless and metabolically inactive for over 30 years. Their cells are protected by a sugar called trehalose, which acts like antifreeze and prevents ice crystals from rupturing cell membranes.

In one extraordinary case, scientists revived tardigrades that had been frozen for over 24,000 years in Antarctic ice. They sprang back to life as if no time had passed. The tardigrade’s cryptobiotic abilities allow it to outlast conditions that would kill nearly any other animal. A frozen state poses no threat to this master of survival. After thawing, tardigrades simply wake up and go on with life as if nothing happened.

10. Some Tardigrades Live Symbiotically With Other Organisms Like Lichens or Mosses

tardigrade with moss
Photo By National Geographic

Tardigrades don’t always go it alone. Some species form beneficial symbiotic relationships with other organisms like lichens or mosses. The tardigrade finds food and shelter within its host, while also dispersing spores and providing nutrients through its waste products. Water bears inhabit the layered structure of lichens, living in the nooks and crannies formed by algae and fungi. In mosses, they thrive among leaves and stems, protected from the elements.

The tardigrade gains a safe haven, while the lichen or moss enjoys enhanced growth and reproduction. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. Tardigrades are adept at seeking out and integrating into these miniature ecosystems. Their symbiotic bonds exemplify the amazing diversity of tardigrade lifestyles and survival strategies across habitats. Even among microscopic organisms, mutually beneficial relationships are forged.

11. Tardigrades Have Survived Exposure to Open Space Ten Times Longer Than Any Other Animal

tardigrade in space
Photo By NASA

Tardigrades are the toughest creatures out there when it comes to surviving the extreme environment of outer space. In studies, tardigrades have withstood exposure to the vacuum and radiation of open space for up to 10 days – far longer than any other animal tested. C. richtersi tardigrades recovered after rocket trips to low Earth orbit, while Milnesium tardigradum endured spaceflight and full exposure to the space environment on the International Space Station.

Their feats eclipse all other research animals like nematodes, brine shrimp, and insects, which survived only hours or days before radiation and desiccation took their toll. The water bear’s resilience shows why it’s the number one pick for astrobiological research. Unlocking the secrets behind the tardigrade’s space survivability could boost radiation protection and adaptability for longer manned space missions in the future. When it comes to surviving space, the tardigrade reigns supreme.


How Do Tardigrades Survive the Extreme Conditions of Outer Space?

Tardigrades became the first known Earth animal to survive in outer space in 2007. They were exposed to the vacuum and radiation of low Earth orbit for 10 days, and around 68% of them recovered after rehydration on Earth. They can endure these harsh conditions due to their ability to enter a state called cryptobiosis, where their metabolism comes to a standstill. In this dormant state, they can survive conditions such as boiling temperatures, intense radiation, crushing pressures, and the vacuum of space.

What Mechanisms Allow Tardigrades to Endure Extreme Radiation and Temperatures?

Tardigrades are resistant to radiation because they possess efficient DNA repair mechanisms and substances that prevent radiation damage. When it comes to extreme temperatures, they rely on unique proteins that prevent freezing and remove damaging heat energy. For freezing conditions specifically, their cells are protected by a sugar called trehalose, which acts as an antifreeze and prevents ice crystals from rupturing cell membranes.

Where Do We Find Tardigrades, and How Diverse Are Their Species?

Researchers have found tardigrades in various habitats, from the Himalayas to Antarctic ice and deep-sea sediments. They live in both water and terrestrial habitats such as lichens and soil. Researchers have identified over 1,200 species of tardigrades, and some experts estimate that there might be over 10,000 undocumented species.


Tardigrades are microscopic animals that can survive extreme conditions that would kill most other forms of life. They can withstand extreme heat, cold, radiation, and even the vacuum of space. Studies have shown that tardigrades can survive exposure to the space environment, including severe dehydration, freezing temperatures, and radiation. While in an inert state, tardigrades have survived space vacuum and solar radiation combined for at least 10 days. Their ability to withstand these extreme conditions makes tardigrades of great interest to astrobiologists studying the possibilities of life beyond Earth. More research is needed to fully understand the upper limits of tardigrade survival, but it is clear that these tiny creatures have an astonishing capacity to endure environments lethal for most other forms of life, including outer space.

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