For many years, scientists have been traveling in space to discover new things. These trips, however, could have negative consequences, such as contamination other planets with microorganisms from Earth. In 2019, scientists from NASA and German Aerospace Center sent fungi and bacteria into the stratosphere as part of the experiment MARSBOx. The stratosphere, the second most important layer of the Earth's atmosphere, has, according to experts, conditions that are very similar to those prevailing on Mars. Therefore, it is the ideal place to send samples to see if the microorganisms can survive in the red planet and how they react. Now, scientists have published a paper on their findings, which states how black mold seeds survived the journey.
In fact, the microorganism could live on the surface of Mars temporarily, but the researchers found that the seeds could be revived after they returned to Earth. The research team planted seeds of Aspergillus niger and Salinisphaera shabanensis, Staphylococcus capitis subsp. capitis and Buttiauxella sp. at MARSBOx. There were two layers of sample inside the container, with the bottom being protected from radiation so that NASA could separate the effects of the radiation from the effects of other environmental conditions. NASA transported the container to the stratosphere, where the samples were subjected to conditions similar to those prevailing on Mars. They were also exposed to ultraviolet radiation, a thousand times more than it could cause sunburn.
So what does the survival of the Aspergillus niger mean for space travel? Katharina Siems, a member of the German Aerospace Center research team, said: “With long missions to Mars, we need to know how human-related microorganisms will survive in Red Planet, as some may endanger the health of astronauts. In addition, some germs could be valuable for space exploration. They could help us produce food and supplies, which is very important when we are away from home (Earth)".
Last year, NASA improved some of its policies to agree on its commitment to protect the Moon and Mars from possible human contamination. The organism wants to ensure that it does not unknowingly transfer microorganisms or other pollutants from Earth to other planets. This could jeopardize the search effort extraterrestrial life. In addition, the return of microorganisms from "other worlds" could also negatively affect our environment. Siems explained that experiments such as the MARSBOx mission "is a very important way to explore all the effects of space travel on microbial life but also to lead this knowledge to amazing space discoveries".