August 21, 2014
Did Cosmonauts Discover Plankton On The International Space Station?
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have reportedly discovered terrestrial sea plankton from the outside of one of the orbital base’s modules, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported earlier this week.
According to CNET’s Michelle Starr, traces of the microorganism were shockingly discovered on the windows of the space station. While previous research has demonstrated that bacteria are capable of living in space, sea plankton is an unexpected discovery.
“Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” Vladimir Solovyev, chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission, told Itar-Tass. He added that it was unclear how the particles made their way to the surface of the ISS.
The residue samples containing the microorganisms were recovered from the exterior of the ISS exterior of the Zvezda service module by Expedition 40 flight engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev during a five-hour, 11-minute spacewalk on Monday afternoon. They were later identified by high-precision equipment, Itar-Tass said.
“As for how the plankton got there in the first place, researchers are yet unclear, although they do have some theories,” Starr said, noting that Solovyev explained that plankton is “such phases of development is found on the surface of the ocean. It isn't characteristic to Baikonur [Cosmodrome, from where supplies are launched to the space station]. It turns out that there are some rising air currents, which settle on the surface of the station.”
Likewise, Paul Owen of The Guardian reported that it is not likely that the plankton were already on the ISS carried into space when the first components were launched into orbit in 1998. Rather, he and other media outlets suggest it is possible they had been blown over by air currents on Earth.
However, as Space.com reporter Miriam Kramer pointed out on Wednesday, there is some dispute over the unconfirmed claims. NASA spokesman Dan Huot declined to confirm the reports, telling Kramer that the US space agency had not yet “heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they've found sea plankton.”
“I'm not sure where all the sea-plankton talk is coming from,” he added. “The Russians did take samples from one of the windows on the Russian segment, and what they're actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That's what they were taking samples for.”
In addition to possibly discovering terrestrial sea plankton from the outside of the ISS, Skvortsov and Artemyev also deployed a small science satellite, retrieved and installed experiment packages and inspected components on the exterior of the orbital laboratory during Monday’s spacewalk. It was the 181st in support of space station assembly and maintenance, but it could turn out to have netted the cosmonauts a first-of-its-kind discovery.
FOR THE KINDLE - The History of Space Exploration: redOrbit Press