Boost for Efforts to Prevent Microbial Stowaways on Interplanetary Spacecraft
Efforts to expunge micro-organisms from spacecraft assembly cleanrooms, and the spacecraft themselves, inadvertently select for the organisms that are often the most fit to survive long journeys in space. This has the risk of thwarting the goal of avoiding contaminating other celestial bodies, as well as samples brought back to earth, according to Myron La Duc of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and his collaborators. Their research is published in the August issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Mars, the Jovian moon, Europa, and a few other denizens of our solar system may harbor life, and might be capable of supporting some terrestrial microbes. Contaminating planets or moons that already support extraterrestrial lifea possibility on Mars, the big Jovian moon, Europa, and the tiny Saturnian moon, Enceladuscould interfere with efforts to understand that life, and its origins. For example, life on all of these orbs may have a common originlikely on Earth or Marsand contamination of samples could confound efforts to determine which planet was the source of life, and how life arose. For these reasons, sterilization processing of spacecraft bound for such planetary bodies is a very high priority for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Species of bacteria have long been considered capable of surviving space travel, but examples of a fungal species that is capable of such survival have only recently been demonstrated, according to the report. Additionally, due to their extraordinary ability to withstand various extreme environments, some archaea "have been proposed as being capable of tolerating the Martian environment," the investigators write. "In light of this, the breadth of current spacecraft-associated microbial diversity assessments must expand to include eukaryot
|Contact: Jim Sliwa|
American Society for Microbiology