Traveling in space weakens our immune system and, as if it were not bad enough, it could also make bacteria better able to resist the drugs we use to overcome them. That's why several NASA projects have focused on studying how bacteria behave in space. The new project is called EcAMSat and is now running after being launched to the International Space Station earlier this month.
On board that satellite, which is almost as big as a shoebox, there is a group of microscopic creatures called MI. coli an incredibly common bacterium that, under the right circumstances, can cause urinary tract infections. It's just one of the bacteria that can make life on board the International Space Station (and any future space mission) uncomfortable.
Those E. coli were dormant during the launch itself, but the experiment, which basically works on its own, is slowly awakening them by heating and feeding them. And there are two different types of E. coli on board: one basic variety and the other a variety that carries a natural gene that helps defeat common antibiotic drugs.
Stay up to date with this story and more subscribing now  The experiment that NASA sent into space to test resistance to antibiotics. NASA / Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart
Next, the configuration will expose bacteria to antibiotics in a range of different doses and you will see how they fare. The experiment will measure the survival of the bacteria by observing a dye included with E. coli that changes from blue to pink as the bacteria thrive. Everything weighs only 23 pounds and could fit in a backpack and does not need any signal from here on Earth to do its job.
The results will help scientists begin to understand how much antibiotic is needed to stop an infection. in the space. EcAMSat is a fairly short mission, with the satellite destroyed in about a year and a half. But it's just part of NASA's ongoing effort to understand how bacteria behave differently in space than on the ground, along with their work studying how human bodies are affected by space travel.
Scientists know from the study of astronauts who have visited International Space Station that the abrupt reduction of gravity tends to interfere with our immune system, making humans more susceptible to insects. But the same stress seems to give an advantage to the bacteria, and in conjunction with the resistance to antibiotics that has been flourishing among all types of bacteria, that could be very bad news for future space travelers. EcAMSat is the first step to discover to what extent existing medicine can equal the playing field.