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Microbes in Space

The majority of experiments on microorganisms in space were performed using Earth-orbiting robotic spacecraft, Example: the Russian Foton satellites and the European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA) (121), or human-tended spacecraft, such as space shuttles (106, 107) and space stations, Example: MIR and the International Space Station (ISS).

Only twice, during translunar trips of Apollo 16 and 17 in the early 1970s, were microorganisms exposed to space conditions beyond Earth’s magnetic shield, in the MEED (microbial ecology equipment device) facility and in the Biostack experiments.

Arriving in space without any protection, microorganisms are confronted with an extremely hostile environment, characterized by an intense radiation field of galactic and solar origin, high vacuum, extreme temperatures, and microgravity.

Some bacteria were found in International Space Station and on the Mars Rover. Some bacteria and tiny microbes called tardigrades are able to survive for longer periods in space. This ability of surviving in extreme environmental condition leads to forward contamination. Sea planktons and other microorganisms have been identified in cosmonauts’ spacewalk samples.

In July 2016, Kate Rubins was the first to sequence DNA in space. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson amplified and sequenced the DNA of bacteria that grew as colonies in the petri plate on the surface on the space station.

In June 2018, Professor George Fox and his team have isolated genus Bacillus from spacecraft assembly rooms at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They have sequenced the complete genomes of two strains, B. safensis FO-36bT and B. pumilus SAFR-032 and found that they are resistant to radiation.

Los Angeles in great news for India, scientists at NASA have named a new organism discovered by them after the much loved APJ Abdul Kalam. Till date, the new organism – a form of bacteria – has been found only on the International Space Station (ISS) and has been found on earth.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) the foremost lab of NASA for work on inter-planetary travel discovered the new bacteria on the filters of the international space station (ISS) and named it Solibacillus kalam to honour the late president, who was a renowned aerospace scientist.