Bacteria In Space Essay

1689 words - 7 pages

On the twelfth day of April 1961, humanity achieved the first manned spaceflight, breaking through our atmosphere into the new, harsh environment of space, and on that same day, thousands of different species of bacteria that comprised approximately two percent of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s total body mass also took a ride through this drastically different environment. It is important to remember that communities of microbes, including bacteria that play an essential role in human health, from digestion to proper immune system function, live in the human body. Because of these important roles, maintaining a completely sterile spacecraft is neither possible nor desirable. However, while the human body is a host to a myriad of organisms beneficial for to human health, it also harbors many potentially harmful bacteria that can opportunistically cause disease. Scientists are realizing the growing need for studies observing the behavior of bacteria in the environment of space. Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering as the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said, “It is essential that we study microbes, their behavior in space, their role in biofilm formation, for example spacecraft surfaces, and ultimately their potential impact on the health of an astronaut.” Furthermore, Cheryl Nickerson, a leading researcher in this growing field of interest and a professor at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology said, “Every time we push living systems to survive, respond and adapt to extreme environments, we acquire novel insight about these cells. And we've been able to take that knowledge and translate it into new drugs or technologies or products. I have had colleagues ask me why I would use the space flight to research infectious diseases. I think, 'Why in the world would you not have thought of doing that?' Space is the next logical extreme environment to look at."
Astronauts are spending more time in the environment of space thanks to the International Space Station, and innovators are beginning to dream of a time where long-term spaceflight is a reality. The environment of a closed craft in outer space creates a special ecological niche where parameters such as acceleration, gravity, radiation, and electromagnetism are completely different than on Earth. Because of the increasing presence of human beings in space, it is important to understand the long-term effects of bacteria on both humans as well as the equipment astronauts bring with them into this new environment, including those organisms and interactions that would likely be harmless on Earth. Therefore, there have been an increasing number of experiments designed to observe the reactions of bacteria under conditions similar to what is experienced in space. In space, organisms experience what is known as microgravity, a term used to describe what would colloquially be considered a zero-G...

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