Turns out there is ample life off-planet. The International Space Station is full of bacteria and fungi, according to a new NASA study.
The microorganisms living on the space station include potentially dangerous bacteria that can cause illness, along with fungi that may be corroding the station itself. This microscopic life definitely would be worrisome if the space station were on Earth. In space, however, it’s not clear just how much of a threat these microorganisms pose.
Researchers gave astronauts Terry Virts and Jeffrey Williams a bunch of surface wipes to collect bacteria all over the ISS. Those wipes, along with the bacteria and fungi they picked up, were sent back to Earth to be analyzed by the researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
The researchers found all kinds of bacteria growing on the ISS, including Staphylococcus, Enterobacteria, and Methylobacteria. As far as its microbiome goes, the ISS tends to resemble gyms, offices, homes, or any other typical human hangout.
One one level, this makes sense. After all, humans have been living on the ISS for nearly 20 years. It’s not surprising that the station is starting to look like a gym or apartment. But the study’s authors also found traces of more dangerous bacteria like Staph aureus, which are more commonly found in places like hospitals.
Should the astronauts be worried? To be honest, we’re not sure. If they were on Earth and living in this environment, they’d stand a good chance of getting sick. In space, it’s not clear the same rules apply. We simply don’t know enough about how the low gravity affects bacteria.
The researchers also found a number of worrying fungi varietals on the ISS, but again, it’s not clear whether they’re dangerous. These fungal species are known for causing corrosion, which could be alarming considering the thin metal walls protecting the astronauts from the vacuum of space.
This study could be potentially worrying, but it could also be no big deal. In the end, it just reinforces how little we know about living in space.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics