A new study by NASA and the German Aviation Center, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, revealed that one microbe discovered on the International Space Station, called the black mold of Aspergillus niger, could be revived. According to the study, few microbes found on Earth can temporarily survive on the surface of Mars. As part of the study, the researchers tested the resistance of microorganisms to Martian conditions by launching them into the stratosphere. The study helps to understand the threat that microbes can pose to space missions. It also helps to understand the possibility of resource independence from the Earth.
Marta Filipa Cortesao, co-author of the study from the German Space Center, said: “We have successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions using a science balloon to transfer our experimental equipment to Earth’s stratosphere. Some microbes, especially spores of the black mold fungus, have managed to survive the journey, even when exposed to very high ultraviolet (UV) radiation. ”When searching for extraterrestrial life, scientists need to be sure of everything they discover.
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Various characteristics of the environment on the surface of Mars cannot be found on Earth. However, the conditions are extremely similar. Cortesao explained that a team of scientists launched microbes into the stratosphere within MARSBOx (Microbes in the atmosphere for an experiment on radiation, survival and biological outcomes). It was kept under Martian pressure and filled with an artificial Martian atmosphere throughout the mission. He said, “The box carried two layers of samples, and the bottom layer was protected from radiation.”
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This helped the researchers separate the effects of radiation from other conditions tested, including drying, the atmosphere, and temperature fluctuations during the summer. Also, the samples of the upper layers were exposed to more than a thousand times more UV radiation than the levels that can cause burns to our skin. Joint first author Katharina Siems, also based at the German Aviation Center, said: “With lengthy manned missions to Mars, we need to know how human-related microorganisms would survive on the Red Planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts. In addition, some microbes can be invaluable for space exploration. They could help us produce food and material supplies independently of the Earth, which will be crucial when we are away from home. ”
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