Hundreds of samples of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and lichens successfully managed to survive the extreme environment of space and Mars.
The cold, dry surface of Mars today isn’t particularly hospitable for life, leave alone survival. The red planet’s temperature drops as low as -220 degrees Fahrenheit, and its thin atmosphere cannot block ultraviolet radiation from space, which would destroy any known organism on the surface of the planet. It is worth noting, however, that microorganisms have been found in the Earth’s most extreme environments, be it the salty subsurface of the Dead Sea, the freezing polar regions, or the world’s hottest deserts. A team of scientists placed samples of microbes outside of the International Space Station (ISS) for a span of 18 months and tested whether these tough microorganisms could survive the extreme conditions of space and Mars.
Under the project named Biology and Mars Experiment (BIOMEX), hundreds of microbe samples were kept in containers and attached to the outer part of the Russian Zvezda module on the ISS, or placed in conditions mimicking Mars for a period of 18 months (October 2014 to February 2016). These microbes were exposed to the harsh conditions of space; like withstanding a vacuum, and resisting ultra-violet radiations. The samples were extensively analyzed upon their return to earth in June 2016. Several archaea and bacteria species emerged as the best fighters, while multicellular organisms like fungi and lichens faced more challenges.
Jean-Pierre Paul de Vera, scientific manager of the BIOMEX project says, “Some of the organisms and biomolecules showed tremendous resistance to radiation in outer space and actually returned to Earth as ‘survivors’ from space. Of course, this does not mean that life actually exists on Mars. But the search for life is more than ever the strongest driving force for the next generation of missions to Mars.”