Phobos-Grunt (“soil”) is a planned Russian sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos. It may launch in less than two months. On board will among other things be the L.I.F.E. experiment, a small canister full of hardy micro organisms, designed by the US Planetary Society. If all goes well, those microdaddies will go to Phobos and back, and then biologists will be able to compare them to their stay-at-home buddies to learn what the environment out there in interplanetary space really does to an Earth creature. Or to a creature from another planet who might once have been thrown into space by an asteroid impact, perchance to land later on Earth.
Only one of the microbe species in the canister is a multicellular animal: tardigrades, water bears, Sw. bjÃ¶rndjur. They have been provided by Ingemar JÃ¶nsson of Kristianstad University College, Sweden. So the first multicellular travellers from Earth in interplanetary space will be little Swedes!
Bizarrely, the canister also contains a soil sample from the Negev desert. OK, so desert critters might be unusually well suited to surviving the harsh environment out there. But is it really a coincidence that they’re sending soil from the Holy Land?