A new study has sent microbes into the Earth’s stratosphere to test their endurance in conditions similar to those on Mars. The goal was to reveal their potential use and threat posed during space travel. The study found that the microbes were able to temporarily survive in conditions similar to the surface of Mars.
The study was performed by NASA and German Aerospace Center scientists. Their work paves the way for understanding the threat microbes pose to space missions and also opportunities for resource independence away from Earth. The scientists say they successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions.
The test involved using a scientific balloon to fly their experimental equipment into the stratosphere of the Earth. The researchers say that some microbes, particularly spores from the black mold fungus, survived the trip even when exposed to very high concentrations of ultraviolet radiation. Understanding the endurance of microbes to space travel is important for the success of future space missions.
The scientists point out that while humankind is searching for extraterrestrial life, we have to ensure that anything discovered didn’t travel with humanity from Earth. The researcher says knowing how human-associated microorganisms could survive on Mars is very important as we look towards long-term missions to the Red Planet. Microbes are also important for producing food and material supplies independently, something crucial away from Earth.
Scientists say that while many Martian surface characteristics can’t be found or easily replicated on Earth, high above the ozone layer in the Earth’s middle stratosphere, the conditions are remarkably similar to Mars. The team notes that not all of the microbes survived the trip, but the black mold Aspergillus niger could be revived once it returned home. That particular microbe has been discovered on the ISS in the past.