Sea Plankton on Space Station, Russian Official Claims
Image: A view of the shuttle's payload bay wi
July 15, 2011 --
The final space shuttle mission (STS-135) to the International Space Station (ISS) continues. Supplies have been delivered by shuttle Atlantis and the final "shuttle era" spacewalk has been successfully completed. Here are a selection of photographs from the busy ISS since Atlantis docked with the orbital outpost on July 10.
While Atlantis was docked to the space station, a member of the STS-135 crew snapped this picture of some of the islands in the Bahamas, off the coast of the Florida peninsula (right). Miami can be seen toward the top right of the photograph. Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center are located out of shot in the bottom right of the photo.
Welcomed... Fruit? Shortly after docking with the space station, the Atlantis crew (including STS-135 pilot Doug Hurley, left) gave the resident space station crew supplies of fresh food. With a smile, Expedition 28 flight engineer Mike Fossum (right) receives a bag of fruit.
While aboard the space station, the STS-135 crew are working on many tasks during their short stay. STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson (right) can be seen here working with Japanese astronaut and Expedition 28 flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa in the Quest airlock inspecting space suits assigned to NASA astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan prior to the July 12 spacewalk.
Say "Cheese"! During the six and a half hour spacewalk to retrieve a failed ammonia pump module from an external storage platform and install a robotic refueling demonstration apparatus, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum takes a picture while Atlantis is docked behind him. Fossum can be seen restrained on the end of the space station remote manipulator system (Canadarm2).
Mike Fossum points at the camera as he waits at an International Space Station pressurized mating adapter (PMA-2) docked to the space shuttle Atlantis, as the station's robotic system moves the failed ammonia pump module (out of frame) over to the spacewalking astronaut and the shuttle's cargo bay.
Robotic Assistance Mike Fossum, while attached to Canadarm2, holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload -- one of the main tasks to be carried out during the spacewalk. The failed pump module can be seen with the two-armed robot, Dextre, on left side of the photo.
Shuttle Stowage With his feet secured to Canadarm2, NASA astronaut Ron Garan carries the failed ammonia pump module toward shuttle Atlantis' open payload bay. When Atlantis returns to Earth on July 21, engineers will study the module to see how it failed and how the problem can be avoided in the future.
In addition to installing/removing space station hardware, STS-135 delivered up to a years-worth of supplies. STS-135 mission specialist Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module that Atlantis carried to the space station. Magnus is surrounded by the supplies for consumption of the space station residents for the months ahead.
A Picnic, Shuttle Style Seven astronauts -- six from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) -- and three Russian cosmonauts participate in a special meal on the Space Shuttle Atlantis' middeck on July 14. The STS-135 crew consists of NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim; the Expedition 28 or station crew members are JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Volkov. All photographs can be found in NASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery.
A Russian official claims that samples collected by cosmonauts show evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station, news agencies are reporting.
Cosmonauts on the orbiting outpost have allegedly discovered trace amounts of sea plankton and other microscopic organisms living on the outside of the station, exposed to the vacuum of space, according to a news story quoting space station official Vladimir Solovyov.
However, NASA has not confirmed the reports. "As far as we're concerned, we haven't heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they've found sea plankton," NASA spokesman Dan Huot said. Roscosmos is Russia's Federal Space Agency. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]
The unconfirmed claims -- reported by ITAR-TASS -- were reportedly the result of a long-term study done using specialized equipment by Russians on the station, according to the news agency.
Although the cosmonauts did sample the outside of the space station and a window on one of the modules this week, they were not necessarily looking for traces of microbes, according to NASA.
"I'm not sure where all the sea-plankton talk is coming from," Huot told Space.com. "The Russians did take samples from one of the windows on the Russian segment, and what they're actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That's what they were taking samples for. I don't know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from."
It's possible that the plankton, if confirmed, could be a contaminant launched into space with the space station module, said NASA scientist Lynn Rothschild.
Previous studies have found that microorganisms can survive in outer space.
For example, tardigrades -- a microscopic invertebrate found all over the world -- can dehydrate and fall into a hibernation that allows them to survive in space, Rothschild said. Tardigrades (also called "water bears") are part of a group classified as "extremophiles" — organisms that can survive in even the harshest environments.
"Note that there is a long history of U.S. and European missions proving that microbes could survive in low Earth orbit for extended periods of time," Rothschild told Space.com via email.
Researchers have also discovered microbes in Earth's upper atmosphere. In 2013, scientists reported that they found a large number of many kinds of microorganisms in the atmosphere 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) above the planet's surface, according to Space.com sister site Live Science.
Bacterial life has even been found 24.8 miles (40 km) up into the atmosphere, according to a 2013 interview with Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark, by Space.com's sister site Live Science.
NASA officials keep an eye on bacteria growing inside spacecraft. Biofilms -- colonies of bacteria -- grow on the interior of the International Space Station, and scientists are working to understand how the microgravity environment affects their growth. Astronauts grew bacteria in fake urine during a flight of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis and found that it grows strangely when compared to biofilms of the same species cultivated on Earth.
"The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment," Cynthia Collins, who led the study, said in a 2013 NASA statement. "Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment."
Original article on Space.com.
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