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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It Came from Outer Space: “Comets Brought Building Blocks of Life to Earth”

Could life on Earth as we know it have come from outer space? New research from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists shows that comets that crashed into Earth millions of years ago could have produced amino acids – the building blocks of life. Amino acids are critical to life and serve as the building blocks of proteins, which are linear chains of amino acids.

“There’s a possibility that the production or delivery of prebiotic molecules came from extraterrestrial sources,” Goldman said. “On early Earth, we know that there was a heavy bombardment of comets and asteroids delivering up to several orders of magnitude greater mass of organics than what likely was already here.

Livermore’s Nir Goldman and colleagues found that simple molecules found within comets (such as water, ammonia, methylene and carbon dioxide) just might have been instigators of life on Earth as the sudden compression and heating of cometary ices crashing into the planet can produce complexes resembling the amino acid, glycine.

Origins of life research initially focused on the production of amino acids from organic materials already present on the planet. Further research showed that Earth’s atmospheric conditions consisted mainly of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water. Shock-heating experiments and calculations eventually proved that synthesis of organic molecules necessary for amino acid production will not occur in this type of environment.”

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