At NASA, all systems are go for human exploration of Mars, possibly as soon as the 2030s. Scientists say that the planet has conditions suitable for life -- now or in the past. The last thing NASA wants to do is contaminate the planet with bacteria from Earth. So the space agency is super-serious about maintaining clean work areas, from workers in full-body sterile suits to state-of-the-art air filtration. And all surfaces are regularly doused with industrial solvents. However, a new study published in the journal Astrobiology has identified types of bacteria that actually feed on these solvents.
Bacteria that can't be beaten:
- The most virulent microbe in this community of super-hardy bacteria is known as Acinetobacter. The researchers have suggested that the bacteria could actually use cleaning products as sources of energy.
- Acinetobacter strains are not fazed by hydrogen peroxide, the chemical used in bleaches, detergents, and disinfectants. “There’s no such thing as 100 percent sterility,” the scientists concluded.
- Acinetobacter has been identified on the Mars Odyssey orbiter, on the floors where the Mars Phoenix lander was built, and even on the exterior of the International Space Station.