NASA Study Shows How Microbes Can Survive on Mars

At least for a while.
Fabienne Lang

Microbes from Earth took a trip to our stratosphere, were placed in conditions similar to that of Mars, and some of them survived temporarily.

The point of the study, jointly carried out by NASA and German Aerospace Centre (DLR) scientists, was to see whether lifeforms from our planet are capable of surviving the Red Planet's harsh conditions. 

As humans get closer to traveling to and potentially living on Mars, this type of experiment is crucial. On top of that, this study helps scientists understand the options they'll have of exploring environments in space.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology on Monday.

How the experiment was carried out

The team tested the endurance of microorganisms that were launched inside its MARSBox (Microbes in Atmosphere for Radiation, Survival and Biological Outcomes experiment) payload using balloons that floated up into the stratosphere. The box maintained the Martian atmosphere throughout the mission.

"We successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions by using a scientific balloon to fly our experimental equipment up to Earth’s stratosphere," said DLR’s Marta Filipa Cortesão, joint-lead author of the study.

The top layer samples were exposed to over "1,000 times more UV radiation than levels that can cause sunburn on our skin," explained the study's authors.

When the balloons returned to Earth, it turned out that some microbes, such as fungi and bacteria, survived the trip, and the harsh Mars-like conditions.

"Some microbes, in particular spores from the black mold fungus, were able to survive the trip, even when exposed to very high UV radiation," explained Cortesão.

The experiment comes after NASA's Perseverence space probe landed on Mars, to figure out whether or not life forms existed on the Red Planet billions of years ago. Perseverance will gather samples of rock and soil from Mars' surface in sealed tubes that will be sent back to Earth in the 2030s for analysis. 

It's important to understand how microorganisms survive in such conditions and to ensure that none of them have, in fact, traveled from Earth in the first place. 

The recent research will play an important role in further understanding how humans and life will survive on other planets. 

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