Bacteria Sent To ISS Survive For 500+ Days

Bacteria taken from a small fishing hamlet in the UK and placed on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) for more than a year not only managed to survive the journey, but continue to thrive in laboratory conditions, according to a recent BBC News report.

In an August 23 story by Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos, the microbes were taken from cliffs at the English village of Beer and placed on the exterior of the ISS “to see how they would cope in the hostile conditions that exist above the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Some of the bacteria survived for a reported 553 days in outer space as part of an experiment designed “to find microbes that could be useful to future astronauts who venture beyond low-Earth orbit to explore the rest of the Solar System,” Amos reported in his Monday article.

“It has been proposed that bacteria could be used in life-support systems to recycle everything,” Dr. Karen Olsson-Francis of the Open University, where the surviving microbes continue to be monitored, told the BBC. “There is also the concept that if we were to develop bases on the Moon or Mars, we could use bacteria for ‘bio-mining’ – using them to extract important minerals from rocks.”

The bacteria were taken from Beer and placed on and in small chunks of limestone that were taken to the ISS onboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Technology Exposure Facility. Once there, Amos says that they were exposed to cosmic rays, dramatic temperature shifts, and powerful UV rays, and the vacuum of space would have drained the rocks of their water.

Now, he says, Olsson-Francis and her colleagues are trying to determine exactly how the bacteria managed to survive such harsh conditions.

“Bacterial spores have been known to endure several years in orbit but this is the longest any cells of cyanobacteria, or photosynthesizing microbes, have been seen to survive in space,” Amos said, adding that the bacteria in question “resemble closely a group of cyanobacteria known as Gloeocapsa”¦ They have a thick cell wall and this could be part of the reason they survived so long in space.”

Image 2: The cliffs at Beer in Devon, England. Courtesy Wikipedia

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