If You Send a Sloth to Space, You Better Expect it to Nap

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Would a sloth make a good astronaut? Probably not, but it’s damn cute to watch one try.

This little creature headed to NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) for International Sloth Day, a plush mascot to raise awareness for our tiny friends while demonstrating what it would be like to go on a deep space mission.


Sloth prepares space food.

Most food is dehydrated to reduce weight and irradiated for safety; the arrival of fresh fruit is a welcome treat. The low-energy-density diet of tough leaves favoured by most sloths is not very space-friendly, at least until space-gardening is more reliable.


Sloth climbing into the upper levels of the habitat.

Sloths are strong climbers: their 8 to 10 centimeter (3 to 4 inch) claws make hanging from the ladders easier than walking on flat ground.


Sloth reading NASA procedures on Google Glass.

Sloths have poor vision, so reading procedures on Google Glass might actually be more feasible than reading a screen, aside from their lack of literacy and language skills.


Sloth clambering around the exercise equipment.

Exercise is incredibly important in space, not only for maintaining muscle tone in reduced gravity, but also for reducing other health risks from prolonged time off-planet. Although our little sloth is game to clamber and climb, alas, the poor creature lacks appropriate proportions to use standard equipment either in the habitat or on the space station.


Sloth checking on HERA systems.

Space habitats are kept at controlled environmental conditions. Humans would need to get used to warmer, more humid conditions if the tropical species joined in on space missions.


Sloth providing saliva for science experiments.

An important aspect of sending creatures to space is to run biological experiments on how that environment impacts them. We have plenty of data on humans and limited data on other species, but the only way sloths have gone to space is in meme-format.


Sloth resting after an abnormally long day.

Sloths usually sleep for 15 to 20 hours a day, leaving very little time for mission research, station upkeep, or recreational activities. Any sloth heading to NASA’s HERA facility is going to spend a lot of time in the crew quarters relaxing.


While slothtronauts may not be the most practical crewmates to bring along on deep space expeditions, their cute-factor alone must be good for decreasing stress levels of crews kept in confined isolation for far too long.

Top image: Sloth talking HERA mission control. Images credit: @spasmunkey

Contact the author at mika.mckinnon@io9.com or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.