Thursday, April 18, 2019

NASA Studying Earth Bacteria in Space from ISS to Human Waste on the Moon!

             Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the Moon
In this image from a black-and-white, live telecast from the Moon, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set-foot on another planetary body, other than Earth: Sunday Evening, 1969 July 20, 10:56:20 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / July 21, 2:56:20 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). In addition to leaving footprints on the Moon, the twelve NASA astronauts left 96 bags of human waste!
(Image Sources: NASA,, By National Aeronautics and Space Administration - NASA's Apollo 11 Multimedia webpage, Public Domain,

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

As plans continue to be made for human space flight to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, NASA continues to study the several challenges to sending people beyond low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station is located. Some of these challenges include cosmic radiation, the effect of micro-gravity on bones, muscles, and eyes, and even the bacteria each one of us carries with us wherever we go.

Last week, NASA released a study of the microbiome of the International Space Station (ISS) which examined the bacteria and fungi present and viable. This microbiome is formed from microbes flaking off the astronauts / cosmonauts (usually around six on-board at a time), as well as from cargo received at the ISS four-to-six times a year.

It was found that four times more microbes were viable on the ISS, when the microbes have a nutrient-rich source, compared to spacecraft assembly cleanrooms. It was determined that, unlike on Earth, most of these microbes were from animal skin sources (i.e. mostly human sources); on Earth, more soil microbiomes are found.

NASA is looking for “opportunistic pathogens” which could harm astronauts in space. Their research is trying to determine how possible pathogens might be affected by the space environment, including radiation and micro-gravity.

Spaceflight can turn harmless bacteria into potential pathogens,” senior study author Elisabeth Grohmann, a professor at Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin, said in a statement. “Just as stress hormones leave astronauts vulnerable to infection, the bacteria they carry become hardier developing thick protective coatings and resistance to antibiotics--and more vigorous, multiplying and metabolizing faster.”

And, some microbes can form biofilms, that is structures that can glue microbes to one-another, as well as to solid surfaces. NASA is concerned that such biofilms may be more resistant to antibiotics available on the ISS, should an astronaut become infected by a pathogen. Scientists also want to determine if bacteria and fungi which cause corrosion on Earth could do the same thing in deep-space vehicles.

Recently, tests of a new anti-microbial coating, called AGXX, have been conducted on the International Space Station. This new silver and ruthenium-based coating showed promise in greatly reducing the amount of bacteria on contamination-prone surfaces.

Immunosuppression, bacterial virulence and therefore infection risk increase with duration of spaceflight,” Dr. Grohmann said. “We must continue to develop new approaches to combat bacterial infections if we are to attempt longer missions to Mars and beyond. For our part, we are continuing to analyze the antimicrobial performance of AGXX, most recently aboard the joint IBMP-NASA SIRIUS 18/9 isolation mission.”

Once we return to the Moon, NASA also plans to study the 96 bags of human waste, “urine, food waste, vomit, and other waste,” left by the twelve Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon 50 years ago. This waste was tossed to the lunar surface in white “jett” jettison bags before the astronauts left the Moon.

Of course, the question is whether bacteria in the jett bags could survive over the last five decades. According to the NASA report, if microbes in this human waste can survive for 50 years in the harsh lunar environment, such microbes could possibly survive interplanetary or even interstellar travel and possibly seed life on other planets visited by spacecraft from Earth.

Folklore over the years, and in later years promoted by the Internet, states that microbes were found living on a camera launched to the Moon in April of 1967, aboard the Surveyor 3 unmanned lander spacecraft. This camera had been returned to Earth by astronauts from the Apollo 12 mission in November of 1969, which had landed close to Surveyor 3 specifically for the purpose of studying the remains of the unmanned spacecraft.

However, by 2011 the conclusion that microbes had survived on Surveyor 3 for more than two years was highly in-question. NASA researchers concluded that re-contamination of the camera, either in the Apollo 12 capsule during the trip back to Earth, or during the evaluation of the camera back on Earth, could account for the microbes found on the camera.

On the Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972, the astronauts perfomed an experiment where nine species of microbes were exposed to the harsh environment on the outside of the spacecraft for a few days. Many of these microbes did survive, but again, only for a few days.

Once NASA astronauts can get back to the Moon, they can determine if the bacteria in the “poop” from 50 years ago were also able to survive.

University of Florida scientist Andrew Schuerger told that it is unlikely that any microbes in the human waste from the Apollo missions did survive, “But it’s the highest probability [out] of anything that landed on the moon.”

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Linh Anh Cat. "4 Discoveries About Microbes On The International Space Station."
Forbes Magazine 2019 April 17.
Link >>>

Walter, Kenny. "New Antimicrobial Coating Protects Astronauts From Superbugs in Space."
R&D Magazine 2019 March 22.
Link >>>

Resnick, Brian. "Apollo astronauts left their poop on the moon. We gotta go back for that shit." 2019 April 1.
Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
              Thursday, 2019 April 18.

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Glenn A. Walsh - Informal Science Educator & Communicator: >
Electronic Mail: < >
Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < >
SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < >
Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
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