Microorganisms that are capable of living and reproducing in space could create a real threat to long-term missions such as an expedition to Mars – posing not just risks to the health of astronauts but destroying the very fabric of the spacecraft in which they are travelling.
Writing in the latest issue of ROOM – The Space Journal (www.room.eu.com), Natalia D Novikova, Svetlana V Poddubko and Elena A Deshevaya, members of the Institute of Biomedical Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences, have noted that microorganisms are capable of establishing residence in the material of an orbiting module and creating damage to the vessel.
Research on the issue has been undertaken at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Results from studies of long-term orbital space stations have highlighted serious issues with detrimental microorganisms. Although space might be thought of as a hostile environment many microbes have been able to adapt and thrive in the miniature eco-systems of space craft.
Initially benign, these could pose a significant risk to the health of astronauts whose immune systems are weakened as a consequence of spaceflight.
Equally alarming, operational experience from Russian orbital space stations has shown that microorganisms can damage polymer-based construction materials, corrode metals, damage water regeneration systems and change the sealing or electrical properties of spacecraft components.
The concerns from leading scientists are centered on the long duration of spaceflight when the effects of bacteria can be most destructive. Safety is paramount in space flight and now scientists are working on a number of projects to ensure that the damage caused to a vessel by microorganisms is limited.
More information on this and related topics is published on the ROOM website at www.room.eu.com