Researchers: Spacecraft-Riding Microbes Could Colonize Mars

TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – The search for life on other planets could be complicated by tiny stowaways, reports

New research suggests microorganisms from Earth could hitch a ride on spacecraft and end up colonizing Mars and other celestial bodies in the solar system.

If Earth’s microbes can survive the perilous journey to other planets and moons, it may be difficult to determine whether any microbial life discovered on those bodies originated there or was introduced from our planet.

In order to prevent such contamination, spacecraft are allowed to harbor a certain level of microbial life. That level, called the “bioburden,” was established after intensive testing different microbes to find out how resistant they are to radiation and other space dangers.

But 3 studies from 2012 suggest that the current bioburden is too low, because some microbes are more robust than previously believed.

One of the studies found certain bacteria able to survive in the vacuum of space and a second study conducted on board the International Space Station, which simulated the Martian atmosphere, found some spores that lived for 18 months.

A third study suggested bacteria can live in rocks which are ejected from the planet’s surface and survive until hitting something else.

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