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ISS Surface As Littered With Microbes As A Gym, Claims NASA’s Scientists

The study provides the first comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems and can be used to help improve safety measures that meet NASA requirements for deep space human habitation.

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Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health. Pixabay

 A team of NASA researchers, including an Indian-origin scientist has found the surface inside the International Space Station (ISS) is littered with microbes just like in a gym or office on Earth — threatening astronauts’ health at the orbiting laboratory.

The knowledge of the composition of the microbial and fungal communities on the ISS can be used to develop safety measures for NASA for long-term space travel or living in space, said the researchers in a paper that appeared in the open access journal Microbiome.

Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health.

“This is even more important for astronauts during spaceflight, as they have altered immunity and do not have access to the sophisticated medical interventions available on Earth,” said Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and a corresponding author.

The researchers used traditional culture techniques and gene sequencing methods to analyse surface samples collected in eight locations on the ISS, including the viewing window, toilet, exercise platform, dining table and sleeping quarters, during three flights across 14 months.

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The authors found that while fungal communities were stable, microbial communities were similar across locations but changed over time. Pixabay

This allowed them to examine if and how the microbial and fungal populations differed between locations and over time.

The authors found that while fungal communities were stable, microbial communities were similar across locations but changed over time.

The microbes on the ISS were mostly human-associated. The most prominent bacteria were Staphylococcus, Pantoea and Bacillus.

They included organisms that are considered opportunistic pathogens on Earth, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly found on the skin and in the nasal passage and Enterobacter, which is associated with the human gastrointestinal tract.

“On Earth, they are predominant in gyms, offices, and hospitals, which suggests that the ISS is similar to other built environments where the microbiome is shaped by human occupation,” the study noted.

There are currently six astronauts on board the International Space Station.

Whether these opportunistic bacteria could cause disease in astronauts on the ISS is unknown. This would depend on a number of factors, including the health status of each individual and how these organisms function while in the space environment.

bacteria
The knowledge of the composition of the microbial and fungal communities on the ISS can be used to develop safety measures for NASA for long-term space travel or living in space, said the researchers in a paper that appeared in the open access journal Microbiome. Pixabay

“Regardless, the detection of possible disease-causing organisms highlights the importance of further studies to examine how these ISS microbes function in space,” said Dr Checinska Sielaff, the study’s first author.

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The study provides the first comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems and can be used to help improve safety measures that meet NASA requirements for deep space human habitation.

“The results can also have significant impact on our understanding of other confined built environments on the Earth such as clean rooms used in the pharmaceutical and medical industries,” said Dr Venkateswaran. (IANS)

Next Story

Koch to Set Record for Longest Spaceflight by Woman, Will Spend 328 Days in Space

"One month down. Ten to go," Koch wrote Wednesday on Twitter. "Privileged to contribute my best every single day of it"

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astronaut, longest spaceflight, record
FILE - In this April 8, 2019, photo made available by NASA, astronaut and Expedition 59 Flight Engineer Christina Koch works on U.S. spacesuits inside the Quest airlock of the International Space Station. VOA

A female astronaut is due to set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, the U.S. space agency said Wednesday, the same astronaut who was to have been in the first all-female spacewalk scrapped over lack of a right-sized spacesuit.

Astronaut Christina Koch, who completed the space walk with a man instead of a female colleague last month, will remain in orbit on board the International Space Station until February, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said.

Part of NASA’s study of the effects of long spaceflights on the human body, Koch will spend 328 days in space.

The 40-year-old astronaut has been in orbit since last month.

“One month down. Ten to go,” Koch wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “Privileged to contribute my best every single day of it.”

astronaut, longest flight
FILE – U.S. astronaut Christina Koch, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), looks on prior the launch of Soyuz MS-12 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, March 14, 2019. VOA

In late March, NASA canceled what would have been the first all-female spacewalk with Koch and astronaut Anne McClain due to a lack of a spacesuit in the right size for McClain.

The walk was would have occurred during the final week of Women’s History Month.

On board the orbiting space station, astronauts work on a range of experiments in biology, biotechnology, health, earth, space and other sciences.

The typical stay for astronauts is six months, NASA said.

“NASA is looking to build on what we have learned with additional astronauts in space for more than 250 days,” Jennifer Fogarty, a chief scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program, said in a statement.

longest spacecraft, women
Part of NASA’s study of the effects of long spaceflights on the human body, Koch will spend 328 days in space. Pixabay

Record holders

Astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, staying in orbit 288 days in 2016 and 2017, NASA said.

“It’s my honor to follow in Peggy’s footsteps,” Koch said in a video from the International Space Station, orbiting over 200 miles (322 km) above Earth.

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Of the more than 500 people who have traveled to space, fewer than 11 percent have been women. But Koch graduated from NASA’s 2013 class of astronauts that was 50 percent women.

The overall NASA record of 340 days, set in 2016, is held by astronaut Scott Kelly in an experiment to compare his physical and mental health to his identical twin Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth. (VOA)