Scientists Trying Like Hell to Prevent Bacteria Spread on Space Missions

Everyone knows that every little detail of a space mission is planned carefully. To make sure nothing goes wrong, everyone involved, including the crew and those managing the mission make it a point to account for every little thing that goes into and comes out of the spacecraft. However, there happens to be a few micro stowaways they have a hard time controlling. We are talking about the germs and bacteria that hitch rides on the astronauts themselves.

Even though they are virtually undetectable to the human eye, these little organisms carry with them the potential to cause mass damage on not only the health of humans in space, but also can hurt the functionality of spacecraft. Now scientists are starting to really understand and grasp the effects that these little bugs have on a long term space mission, which includes the big one that might take mankind to Mars in the near future.

Types of Risks from Germs in Space

The fact is that the bodies of human beings contain billions of bacteria at moment in time, which includes many microbes on our skin and in our guts. Of course, many of these are important and should not be killed before going to space. For instance, our microbiomes—which are a term for all of our collective germs and bacteria—are actually pretty vital to our human health. But also, their presence in small confined spaces and lowered gravity field could also present a different risk to anyone on the crew and to the equipment. This is particularly true on a long term space trip.

Scientists have been examining the effects of these tiny microbes during short term space trip, and they have also evaluated just how they have grown and thrived inside the International Space Station (ISS). But until recently, researchers have not looked that deeply into their activities and behavior for any lengthy outer space missions. In a study that was recently posted in the publication Microbiome, scientists reported how they tracked for 520 days the microbe diversity within a spacecraft mock-up that housed astronauts, which is approximately the same amount of time it would take to reach Mars.

This project was called MICHA (Microbial ecology of confined habits and human health) and is just one section of the overall Mars500 project that monitored six crew members who had lived within a confined “spacecraft.” These astronauts performed various scientific experiments, cooked and ate meals, and also cleaned and maintained their cabin just as if they were on an actual mission. They also gathered samples of microbes off their skin and also from surfaces all over the spacecraft.

“Ours is the first comprehensive long-time study that investigates the microbial load, diversity, and dynamics in a closed habitat for the full duration of a simulated trip to Mars,” said Petra Schwendner, who is an astrobiologist from the University of Edinburgh.

The Biggest Concern from the Test Study

Scientist discover that during the entire period, bacteria levels were maintains within satisfactory microbial parameters that had been established for the ISS. They also learned that in spite of being sealed in environments unlike Earth, colonies of various bacteria strains remained pretty dynamic, which meant that no one bacteria type took over and dominated the whole area. However, they did discover that this microbe diversity had decreased as time went on, which meant that there were less species at the conclusion of this 520 day test period, and this is certainly not very desirable.

The very last finding was extremely important. Generally speaking, these microbes are at their most beneficial when they reside in diverse, evenly mixed bunches. The biggest danger is when infections are caused because conditions allowed certain types of bacteria to flourish and grow strong.