NASA scientists identified microbes living on the International Space Station (ISS) in December, the first time such space-dwelling organisms have been categorized.
The agency’s Genes in Space-3 initiative studies molecular life on the ISS in order to better treat astronauts who become sick while in space and to assist astronauts trying to identify organisms from other planets if found, according to a NASA press release.
Though space equipment goes through extensive sanitation procedures, scientists cannot remove every bacterium. About 300 microbes per square meter remain after the most extensive cleaning measures. Still, that is huge improvement over conventional house cleaning that can leave behind billions of microbes, according to Science Alert.
“The ISS is very clean,” microbiologist and project scientist Sarah Stahl said in a statement. “We find a lot of human-associated microorganisms — a lot of common bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Bacillus and different types of familiar fungi like Aspergillus and Penicillium.”
The microbes on ISS likely hitchhiked to the station from Earth, as none of those identified so far are unique to space. The project’s main objective, however, is developing a technique for identifying microbes in space without having to send samples down to laboratories on Earth. The process of identifying organisms found in space is now much simpler and faster, creating new opportunities for astronauts and scientists looking for life on other planets.
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