Space station experiment identifies microbes that can survive unprotected in space

by Will Parker
Scientists conducting a series of experiments on the International Space Station say that some micro-organisms can survive for long periods exposed to the hostile environment of outer space. The findings, published in the Astrobiology Journal, lend weight to the concept of panspermia, where life on Earth emerged from bacterial colonies transported on comets and asteroids.
The experiments were designed to see whether bacterial hitchhikers on spacecraft were hardy enough to survive in space and contaminate other planets. Currently, spacecraft landing on Mars or other planets where life might exist must meet requirements for a maximum allowable level of microbial life (known as bioburden). These acceptable levels were based on studies of how various life forms survive exposure to the rigors associated with space travel.
“If you are able to reduce the numbers to acceptable levels, a proxy for cleanliness, the assumption is that the life forms will not survive under harsh space conditions,” explains NASA’s Kasthuri J. Venkateswaran. But that assumption may not hold up, as it seems some microbes are hardier than expected.

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Water carried on asteroids – common

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent | Oct 9, 2010
Frozen water on asteroids may be more common than previously thought, according to new research that will help to support the idea they might have carried the key ingredient for life to the Earth.

Water ice and organic molecules that help to form the basis of life have been discovered on a second asteroid, called 65 Cybele, by astronomers.

The finding was reported at a meeting of planetary scientists in Pasadena, where scientists said the presence of ice lends support to theories that life on Earth was seeded from out of space after being carried here on asteroids.

The researchers made a similar discovery in April this year when they discovered the first evidence of ice on an asteroid called 24 Themis.

Both this asteroid and the latest discovery are found in the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter.

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Did asteroids bring water and life to Earth?

September 3, 2010 | by Michael Anft
Space scientists have put several men on the moon, robotically explored the farthest reaches of the solar system, and calculated the age and composition of the universe. But they’ve had a hard time nailing down two of the most basic questions about life on Earth: How did the surface of the planet become mostly water? Especially since the massive collision that formed the moon 4.5 billion years ago would have vaporized any water then present? And how did Earth acquire the organic compounds that cooked up life? The common wisdom has been that comets, cooled by ultra-frosty temperatures beyond the solar system, smashed into Earth sometime after the moon’s creation, bringing water in the form of ice, possibly along with organic matter essential to the creation of life.

But a recent pair of studies, one led by Andrew Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at the Applied Physics Laboratory, questions this long-held notion. Using infrared telescopes in Hawaii to measure the reflected light of asteroids, Rivkin’s team has discovered substantial ice and evidence of prebiotic, carbonaceous compounds on one of them. The finding, detailed in the April 29 issue of Nature, puts hypotheses on the origins of life on Earth in a new light and blurs distinctions scientists have long made between asteroids (orbiting rocky bodies that formed within the solar system) and comets (which typically come from outside our planetary system). A separate experiment run by an astronomer at the University of Central Florida (UCF) recently confirmed the Rivkin team’s results.

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