Why NASA Has Been Shipping Bacteria to the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) has been playing host to many different kinds of microbes as part of a larger study to figure out how bacteria reacts to a microgravity environment and cosmic radiation.

Why NASA Has Been Shipping Bacteria to the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) plays host to many different kinds of experiments, which helps NASA researchers understand how future astronauts might live in deep space. But one year-long experiment has been looking at how bacteria survives in a microgravity environment and react to cosmic radiation. The results so far have been quite interesting.

Researchers at the ISS are swabbing the desk of the space station to see what kind of microbes are present in their enclosed environment. It's all part of the Microbial Tracking-1 study. The goal: to see how these microscopic stow-aways grow and change over time on the ISS. Samples are sent back to Earth research labs for further testing.

“Results that derive from such studies will enable NASA to better understand the microbiome of the space station, how it evolves over time, and could provide solutions in mitigating future risks associated with crew health and mission integrity,” said Fathi Karouia, Microbial Tracking-1 project scientist, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Because the astronauts at the ISS live in a closed system, preparing for any possible health risks will help assure the future success of deep space missions.

Humans naturally play host to a world of microbes, so astronauts have already brought bodies of them the minute they stepped on board the ISS. But other parts of the study have gone so far as to ask citizen scientists to collect microbes from sports teams, historical monuments, museums, spacecraft, and schools, and ship them to the ISS to see what would happen. 

Credit: CC BY 4.0

Of the 48 strains they sent to the ISS, researchers found only Bacillus safensis took to becoming a spacefaring bacteria, growing 60 percent better in space than on Earth. Researchers have no idea why this particular strain thrived.

After a year of sending and sampling microbes on the ISS, the study is coming to an end. The information gained from this research will influence how NASA engineers a successful mission to Mars. It could lead to methods that will suppress the presence of certain microbes, while encouraging the growth of others. We're learning how to engineer the best conditions for a long voyage.


Photo Credit: NASA / JPL

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less

The cost of world peace? It's much less than the price of war

The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
  • That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
  • Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
  • Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
  • Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

The evolution of modern rainforests began with the dinosaur-killing asteroid

The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.

Velociraptor Dinosaur in the Rainforest

meen_na via Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
  • A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
  • The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.
Keep reading Show less