Spac iz gud fer berz

>> Monday, September 08, 2008

Here's a question: what do these two things have in common?

If you answered, "An astonishing ability to survive exposure to the frigid vacuum of space and cosmic ray radiation," give yourself a yummy, delicious cookie. Oh, what the hell--pour yourself a glass of fresh milk to wash it down with, while you're at it.

The critter in the second image is an invertebrate called a tardigrade or, apparently, a "water bear." Scientists sent a batch up on a European Space Agency satellite and exposed them to the deep black--vacuum, solar radiation, cosmic rays--and then brought them back. How did the creatures fare? From the above-linked article on

Back on Earth, tardigrades that had basked in cosmic radiation revived and reproduced at rates comparable to an unexposed control group. Those dosed with solar radiation were less likely to wake -- but that even a few survived, wrote Rettberg's team in findings published today in Current Biology, was remarkable.

One has to wonder, naturally, if this means that other animals (as opposed to microorganisms) might be capable of interplanetary or even (improbably enough) interstellar travel. Is it at all possible, however unlikely, that Earth might indeed be visited by aliens, not in spaceships of course (pesky problems in physics pop up prominently), but clinging to the insides of rocks split from worlds during planetary catastrophes, asteroidal impacts and colliding worlds and such? Granted, the interstellar part of that seems dramatically unlikely, but you have to admit it's fun to think about.

Another thought crosses my mind that I'll share even though it's an inside joke between myself and an old buddy, one that will fail to amuse everybody else because you had to be there (and even then, maybe you didn't miss anything).

Back in the early '90s, one of the best strategy games available on the computer was Microprose's classic, Master Of Orion, a game of galactic expansion and conquest in which you guide a nascent interstellar civilization from the point of launching a few poky ships to nearby stars all the way through to conquering the galaxy.

One of the most-fun species available in MOO was a race of bear-people called the Bulrathi, and a running joke became a purported Bulrathi battle-cry, "Spac Iz Gud Fer Berz! that we came up with while we were playing. (This was a decade or more before LOLCats made bad grammar and spelling a staple of internet humor, by the way.) It was shouted at the screen during planetary invasions and before space battles, and gave title to a whole series of save files. "Spac Iz Gud Fer Berz!" became an ongoing joke that outlasted the entire generation of machines slow and stupid enough to play the original Master Of Orion, indeed I think it outlived the generation that was fast-then/plodding-now enough to play the sequel, Master Of Orion II. But you see where this is going, if I haven't lost you. The tardigrades are better known, I'm told, as "water bears" when they're at home (I've never heard of them before today); and I am also informed that space, if it isn't gud fer them, iznt to bad, eether.

Spac iz ohkay fer berz.

(And a final, equally nerdy note to close on: I am pleased to pass along that the tardigrades-in-space project was officially abbreviated "TARDIS." No word on whether the boxes the tardigrades went up in were blue or could alternately travel in time and other relative dimensions.)


vince Monday, September 8, 2008 at 10:37:00 PM EDT  

No word on whether the boxes the tardigrades went up in were blue or could alternately travel in time and other relative dimensions.)

Or if they were shaped like old-time British police boxes.

Matt Warnock Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 10:25:00 AM EDT  

Perhaps the various radiations are just what the tardigardes needed to set them on the evolutionary course to becoming the xeno-morphs. Perhaps those foolish scientists have just doomed our descendents.

Eric Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 12:40:00 PM EDT  

Matt: that scenario would have made Alien vs. Predator - Requiem 2000% better. Then again, renting a lighting rig instead of shooting the whole movie by flashlight would have made AvPR better, so I guess that's not really saying anything.

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