12 April 2011

Tuesday Crustie: Crustaceans... in... space!

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of manned space flight, which is an anniversary all humankind should celebrate. Now, I’m younger than Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight into space... but older than Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon. I’m a space age kid.

The Soviets claim the first human in space, but who can lay claim to the first crustaceans sent into space?

ResearchBlogging.orgAll the references to crustaceans in space I have seen talk about good ol’ brine shrimp (Artemia). Why put Artemia in space? There are several reasons. They’re small, for one, which is a prime consideration considering the cost of putting anything into Earth orbit is directly related to mass.

One good scientific reason for putting brine shrimp into space is brought out by Spooner and colleagues (1992). Brine shrimp can put their eggs in tough cysts that can almost entirely dry out, and development stops until they get into salt water again. This means that you can put brine shrimp into space, start them growing, and be sure that all of that development did in fact occur in space. With almost any other animal, you will have a mix of growth on the ground and in space.

Which nation put crustaceans in space first? Wikipedia notes some went up in some of Russia’s Foton missions, which started in 1985. But then, we all know Wikipedia’s not without its shortcomings. With a little digging, I was able to find an earlier spaceflight: Artemia had gone up in Apollo 16 in 1972 (Planel et al. 1974). This record seems to be held by the Americans.


Spooner BS, DeBell L, Hawkins L, Metcalf J, Guikema JA, Rosowski J. 1992. Brine Shrimp Development in Space: Ground-Based Data to Shuttle Flight Results. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (1903-) 95(1/2): 87-92.

Clément G, Slenzka K. 2006 Animals and plants in space. In: Clément G, Slenzka K (eds.), Fundamentals of Space Biology, pp. 51-80. DOI: 10.1007/0-387-37940-1_2

Planel H, Soleilhavoup JP, Blanquet Y, Kaiser R. 1974. Study of cosmic ray effects on Artemia salina eggs during the Apollo 16 and 17 flights Life Sci Space Res 12: 85-89.

Photo by xavipat on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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