Living bacteria have been found on the outside of the International Space Station, and they may be extraterrestrial, according to one cosmonaut.
Russian engineer Anton Shkaplerov said the microorganisms were not there at the launch of the ISS in 1998 and so likely ‘flew from somewhere in space’.
The bacteria are now being taken back to Earth for further study after initial tests aboard the orbiting station showed they are harmless to humans.
Mr Shkaplerov told Russian news agency TASS that the organisms were found while cosmonauts took samples of the station’s hull.
They took samples from places where waste fuel accumulated, and from ‘obscure’ parts of the station.
‘And now it turns out that somehow these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module,’ said Shkaplerov.
‘That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface.
‘They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger,’ the Russian astronaut, who will take his third trip to the ISS in December as part of the Expedition 54 crew, said.
He insisted the bacteria found on the station is not dangerous to humans.
Microorganisms that have reached space from Earth have previously been known to attach to the surface of the ISS.
Shkaplerov said the previous bacteria was brought to the space station accidentally on tablet PCs together with various materials that are placed aboard the ISS for long periods to study the materials’ behavior in outer space.
He said bacteria have also been found to survive the vacuum of space after being fired from Earth’s surface by ‘ionosphere lift’.
The phenomenon sees material from Earth’s surface lifted into and beyond the atmosphere by the planet’s magnetic forces.
Bacteria have previously been found on the ISS during the station’s ‘Test’ and ‘Biorisk’ experiments.
During these tests, special pads are installed on the station’s hull and left there for several years to see how materials are affected by the conditions in space.
Experts already know that space affects bacteria in a strange way.
A team from CU Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies discovered earlier this year that some bacterial cells ‘shapeshift’ in space to survive the attacks from common medications that successfully kill them on Earth.
They say the results of their study raise concern about how bacteria behave not just for astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS), but for people on Earth as well.
‘We knew bacteria behave differently in space and that it takes higher concentrations of antibiotics to kill them,’ said BioServe Research Associate Luis Zea, lead study author.
‘What’s new is that we conducted a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of the bacteria during the experiments.’
The team designed an experiment to culture common E. coli bacteria on the ISS and treat it to see how it responded.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk