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Beresheet and Arno Schmidt

Arno Schmidt was a prolific German writer but with a little bit of a problem, as most of his writing is highly experimental and extremely difficult to translate. Nevertheless we kept him in our headline - because he had an extensively emotional relation with the moon. And because we are dealing with the Beresheet tardigrade moon expedition in this issue.

At the time of the Beresheet moon lander crash, about two years ago, we received lots of e-mails trying to draw our attention to the Beresheet expedition, some ot them asking for our opinion about it. As a consequence the following stuff is not primary imformation on the basis of our own microscopic work as usual but instead a kind of review, merely grabbing and condensing the most imortant facts from the internet.

It goes without saying that we are deeply admiring the mathematical and engineering performance of an endeavour like the Beresheet moon lander expedition. But things become more complicated when pondering about the tardigrade add-on to the expedition which was, as we understand it, only a minor and accidental part of the endeavour.

Let's have a look at the basic Beresheet facts first:

"Beresheet" is the name of a privately financed lunar lander run by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries. It started on Feb. 22, 2019 from Cape Canaveral, clamped on the nose of an U.S.-American Falcon 9 rocket. Tragically, the remote control of the lander failed during the final approach towards the moon surface on April, 11th. As a consequence Beresheet crushed on the moon, probably not far from the planned landing area. Among the payload of Bersheet was a time capsule by the "Arch Mission Foundation". The foundation's declared objective is to create some kind of backup of our human terrestrial existence and cultural activities - beyond planet Earth. Just think about some kind of Noah's Arch, but the digital and space version of it. Essential part of the freight was a kind of multilayer DVD with its pits and lands engraved in metallic nickel. There were several hundred of GB information on it, depicting the cultural assets of humanity. The time capsule housed many soft information bits that were apparently forgotten on the Voyager time capsules: music, drawings by children, translation guides to various languages etc.
Possibly our magazine was not included - but we do understand that this is due to space constraints and not related to the deep cultural impact of our magazine on Earth ;-). And besides we are not sure whether Noah actually had some tardigrades actively packed onto his arch or whether they came as blind passagers with some kind of salad or a moss cushion ...

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Fig. 1: One of our older moon portraits, taken in the very center of the city of Munich. The digital camera was linked to a Russion 1,000 mm mirror objective in order to perforn this task. The red arrow in the picture is marking the assumed crash position of the Beresheet lander in the Northern part of Mare Serenitatis. And the neighbouring "C" is marking a famous spot in Arno Schmidt's moon fantasies.

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Fig. 2: Symbol photomicrograph, illustrating the tardigrade freight of Beresheet - tardigrades in the dry state, so-called tuns. Typical length 0.2-0.3 mm. We are sorry to say that we couldn't find a single picture of the actual Beresheet tardigrade freight but we assume that it consisted of tardigrade tuns similar to those shown in the image - with the main difference that the Beresheet tardigrade tuns were not red, agreed. The sad point is that those moon tardigrades cannot become actively alive without water and oxygen, both of which are not present on moon. Moreover, the dry state is defined by mother nature in a manner that it shouldn't last longer than a few years, perhaps 10 at most. After this time a tardigrade revival from the dry state might still be possible but the chances that it is actually happening are very, very low.

The tardigrade freight became known in August 2019 by an article in the famous Wired magazine. It became clear that the tardigrades had not been within the core part of the mission, but instead were an unofficial add-on. Of course many international magazines closed in, merely showing some SEM (scanning electron microscope) images of active tardigrades killed for the SEM preparation, thus suggesting that the tardigrades were actually still actively living on the moon - which is simply nonsense, of course: you see - no water, no revival. The sober conclusion is that those tardigrades transported to the moon have a chance of zero to enjoy life further on. But of course, if they should have survived the crash, they might by picked up in theory by some extraterrestrial beings or by you when you will be travelling to the moon next week!

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Fig. 3: A travel giude for your next journey to the moon (in German, sorry), with the subtitle "Travel preparation, travel and arrival on the moon". All of this is fiction and parody, of course.

So we have to sum up that the Israeli Beresheet engineers followed more serious objectives and that the tardigrade add-on was merely a curiosity. Nevertheless there is a positive dream component in the tardigrade endeavour which reminds us of the "lunatic" side of Arno Schmidt:

Arno Schmidt's novel "KAFF auch Mare Crisium" (1960) contains two threads, one being very realistic, with a romance in a German village, and one being fictional with the romance man talking science fiction the romance woman. The science fiction plot is as follows: after World War Three, a minor fraction of mankind has survived on the moon. The "Cold War" past is still present, though in a slightly softened version, with the U.S. Americans living under a huge acrylic cupola and the Russins on the dark (back) side of the moon. This is, of course, an allusion to the fact that the Russians were the first to have a look at the backside of the moon (Lunik 3 mission, in 1959). At this point Arno Schmidt is transferring Noah's arch to modernity and to the moon and it goes without saying that this is a aimilar concept as the Beresheet tardigrade moon arch.

And there is still a further reason why we are mentioning Arno Schmidt: it is well known that Arno Schmidt owned a microscope and that he liked optical gadgets, for example the famous "Visolett" magnifier mentioned by him in his typical untranslatable style:

"das Auge = selbst iss ausdruxlos wie ne Wisolett = Luupe".

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Fig. 4: Visolett magnifiers, both made in the 1930s, the left one in brass housing, the right one fitted in brand-new polystyrene.

But probably Arno Schmidt didn't know anything about tardigrades ...

In any case we would like to thank the Beresheet creators for their rocket style moon imagination boost!

Sources and internet links:

Rainer Hendel: Arno Schmidt am Mikroskop. Mikrokosmos 87 (1998) p. 357-366.
Arno Schmidt am Mikroskop

Arno Schmidt: KAFF auch Mare Crisium. Karlsruhe 1960.
Extended reading (in German): mare-crisium.de

Wikipedia entry "Beresheet"

Wired, Aug. 5th., 2019: A Crashed Israeli Lunar Lander Spilled Tardigrades on the Moon.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
The Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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