Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Super Buuuuuuuuugs Innnnnnnnnn Spaaaaaaaaaace!

Ok, all kidding aside, modern astronauts have a very real and very dangerous problem that up to this point has been ignored.  

On September 18, 2006, ground breaking research was performed aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. 
Previously dormant bacteria were allowed  to grow, change and multiply, in special nutrient baths,
allowing them to grow, change and multiply.   

As the experiment progressed, it soon demonstrated that bacteria, in the gravity-free environment of space turn into superbugs by gathering together, gaining strength and becoming much more effective at causing disease.  This in compounded by the tenancy of humans to develop weaker immune systems  on orbit than they would have planet-side.   

Taking bacteria on missions is certainly nothing new.  Both Russia and the U.S. have done so for decades.  From the Wired UK article:
  • From ballooning experiments in 1935, to the Sputnik satellites and Gemini spacecraft of the 50s and 60s, and on to the Mir, Apollo and Skylab programs of the 80s and 90s, both Russia and the US have flown bacteria into space. Aboard these craft, bacteria were found to grow more quickly, become more resistant to antibiotics, and swap genes between one another more readily. 
However these new experiments are the first to provide information on how virulent these infectious agents can become.  This problem must be addressed if we ever hope to have extended missions says NASA administrators.  

For more information check out the Wired article 



kallamis said...

I am guessing that they have stricter standards aboard the station than any lab on Earth though. And if worse comes to worse, I guess they can always dump it into the vacuum of space.
I wonder what happens if an astronaut however would go up with a flu strain that hadn't hit him yet if things could get rapidly out of hand.
Well, we can't honestly say we are surprised by this either though. We know they can live in the most extreme environments at times, and that they are tough little buggers.
Basically, without gravity they become the Super Saiyan version of the regular strain is what they are saying here.
Now to be honest of what my first thought was when I read this. And I am sure that Paul knows why I thought this way considering.
Hmmm. Me, a small space station, and viruses. World domination here I come. Time to get those applications out. Now how do I get up there?

Beam Me Up said...

I don't know about flu, but Swigert on Apollo 13 developed what for Earth bound was a simple head cold. Now I know conditions of damp and cold will make it worse, but look at how fast things progressed for him. He went free of symptoms so flight would pass him to critically ill at the end in only 3 days...very weird!