Hmmm. I wonder if they've seen Life? Are they sure it's not Alien or a hybrid?The ISS bug that could aid human colonisation of Mars.
IN MID-MARCH, NASA researchers announced that they’d found an unknown life-form hiding aboard the International Space Station. And they were cool with that.
In fact, for an organization known for a sophisticated public communications strategy—Mars rovers don’t write their own tweets, is what I’m saying—everyone was pretty quiet about this discovery.
Almost too quiet.
It’s true that the new life wasn’t, say, a xenomorphic alien with acid for blood. It was a novel species of bacteria, unknown on Earth but whose genes identified it as coming from a familiar terrestrial genus called Methylobacterium. Typically its members like to hang out amid the roots of plants, not on the walls of space stations. Still, you’d think a probably-not-but-maybe-evolved-in-space microbe would merit a little more freaking out. Yet here we are. Nobody was exactly surprised—and the reasons why could define the future of human space exploration.
As part of an ongoing research project into the microbial life of the ISS, astronauts onboard in 2015 and 2016 swabbed down various parts of the station and sent home the wipes they used. Over the next couple of years down here on Earth, a team of researchers headquartered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group isolated the microbes and sequenced their genes. One species, found on a HEPA filter in the station’s life-support system, was a garden-variety (literally!) Methylobacterium rhodesianum. But three samples—from a surface near the materials research rack, a wall near the “cupola” of windows, and the astronauts' dining table—were something new. The researchers running the project named it M. ajmalii. ...