Scientists looking for life on Mars want to discover a colony of bacteria on it that can carry the journey from Earth. To do this, they are ready to conduct an experiment, the purpose of which is to test the ability of the most tenacious bacteria of the planet to survive in extreme conditions.
Four million spores of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 (a strain of highly resilient bacteria) will travel on a helium balloon directly into space, where they can "enjoy" the burning cold, extremely low pressure and intense solar radiation from outer space.
The idea is to simulate the conditions that will enable scientists who study Mars to better understand which microbes or types of microbes can create the greatest risk of infection.
“We want to make sure that if we find life on Mars, there will be no contamination with terrestrial microbes,” said NASA Lead Specialist Ellen Stofan.
“Of course, exploring areas where there is water, we must be careful, especially careful. However, these areas are most interesting for research, ”she added.
The first bacterial strain tested was most often found in clean rooms where spacecraft was being prepared for launch. Samples were divided into four groups of 1 million spores each. The first group spent six hours in near-space, the second twelve, the third eighteen, and the last exactly 24 hours before the experimental chamber returned to Earth. To reach Mars, the spacecraft spends more than seven months, but scientists say that changes in bacteria can be expected even after their short stay in near-space.
“We are expecting a rather tangible reduction in the viability of these disputes ... and we can extrapolate how they will look after a long period of time,” microbiologist David Smith told NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
In addition to studying the surviving spores, scientists will analyze the genome of cells to determine the effect on them of being in the stratosphere.
“Let's hope that these studies will help us understand whether to expect infection, and what it will be. This is the meaning of our work, ”said Smith.
“Unlike similar experiments that were conducted outside the International Space Station, the upcoming Study of Microorganisms in the Stratosphere (IMVS) assumes a thin layer of spores, which excludes the possibility of part of the dispute to“ hide ”under dead cells,” he added.
Experimental camera “IMVS” made a test launch last year and is currently certified for scientific flights. “While the weather conditions at the balloon in New Mexico are not suitable for flight. The next launch is likely to happen on Saturday, ”said Smith.