Without knowing it, we could contaminate Mars and any other world that we are exploring in the future with microorganisms from our planet. Scientists from NASA and the German Aerospace Center launched several fungal and bacterial organisms into the stratosphere in 2019 as part of the MARSBOx experiment. The stratosphere, the second major layer of Earth’s atmosphere above the ozone layer, has conditions that closely resemble the Red Planet and is the perfect place to send samples to find out if they would survive on Mars. Now, the scientists have published a paper on their findings, where they discussed how the black mold spores survived the trip.
The microorganism could only live on the surface of Mars temporarily to be precise, but the researchers found that the spores could revive after they returned home. The team placed fungal spores from Aspergillus niger Y Salinisphaera shabanensis, Staphylococcus capitis subsp. capitis Y Buttiauxella sp. MASE-IM-9 Bacterial cells inside the aluminum container MARSBOx (or Microbes in the atmosphere for the experiment of radiation, survival and biological results). There were two layers of sample inside the container, and the bottom one was shielded from radiation so NASA can separate the effects of radiation from the effects of other environmental conditions. A NASA balloon carried the container into the stratosphere, where the samples were subjected to conditions similar to those on Mars and exposed to ultraviolet radiation more than a thousand times higher than the levels that cause sunburn.
So what does he do Aspergillus niger survive travel mean for space travel? As Katharina Siems, a team member of the German Aerospace Center, put it:
“With long-term manned missions to Mars, we need to know how microorganisms associated with humans would survive on the Red Planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts. Additionally, some microbes could be invaluable for space exploration. They could help us produce food and material supplies independently of Earth, which will be crucial when you’re away from home. ”
Last year, NASA updated its policies to reflect its increased commitment to preventing human contamination of the Moon and Mars. The agency wants to make sure it does not unknowingly carry organisms or other pollutants from Earth to other worlds, as that could compromise the search for extraterrestrial life. Bringing them home from other worlds could negatively affect our environment as well. Siems explained that experiments like the MARSBOx mission “is a really important way to help us explore all the implications of space travel for microbial life and how we can push this knowledge towards amazing space discoveries.”