Staying Safe in Space

Date Published: April 17, 2017
Jennifer Tsang

Jennifer Tsang wrote mainly about safeguards with future microbial interactions in outer space. She touched upon safeguards against interplanetary contamination, about how NASA is preparing a lander destined for further investigation of Europa’s saltwater ocean underneath its icy surface (to look for extraterrestrial life, no less), and about their methods on how to handle any possible contaminants on the lander’s outer walls once it comes back from its long voyage.

Human gut microbiota from outer space, according to Jennifer’s research, decrease in diversity and compromise the immune system, which opportunistic pathogens may take advantage of. Bacteria also become more virulent and more resistant to antibiotics while exposed to increased radiation levels and microgravity.

The author actually mentioned L.G. Baas Becking’s Principle of Ubiquity, which states that we can find microbial life everywhere on Earth, in every environment, in every biome, but that certain microorganisms exist only in a particular habitat–“…The environment selects.”

Antibiotic resistance was also touched upon by the author, how in space bacteria actually experience an enhanced resistance against them due to conditions in the environment.

Lastly, this article goes well under the astrobiology category of our curriculum.

Critical Analysis:
This article was interesting to me because of the astrobiological implications of the topics Jennifer Tsang has discussed. I learned that in space, the microbial content in our bodies gets significantly altered in a way that could mean harm to us in the future and may pose a huge risk for future space endeavors, especially for the astronauts involved, who are directly handling the missions.

The author appeared more credible in my eyes once she started putting links to her sources throughout the article.

How do we prevent our gut microbe diversity from decreasing so much that our immune functions gets compromised while in a zero-gravity environment? Is there a way for us to retain them, using our knowledge right now, in order to help our astronauts cope in space?


2 Comments for “Staying Safe in Space”



I agree with your critical analysis; it’s interesting to think about the effect of increased antibiotic resistance and mutation rates in space-exposed microbes on future planet/moon colonization/visitation. Could our exploration lead to the spread of microbes with increased pathogenicity?
To answer your question, I don’t think there are any completely valid answers as of now. I think the way to answer this though would be to do an in-depth study of the different types of gut biomes in humans so that we may have a greater understanding of the community structure and interactions. The influences of the microbiota on human health are major, although they are difficult to quantify and have been severely understudied thus far. Gaining a greater understanding of the human microbiome could potentially allow for us to develop some sort of supplement/medicine/suppository (yes, like a fecal transplant lol) that would aid in regulating the microbial residents.



This sounds really cool. I guess I never thought about what would happen to the abundance and/or diversity of the microbes in our gut while in space. I wonder though, if it’s specifically detrimental to us only if we return to earth. If and when we can inhabit another planet I’m curious to see if it will be just as harmful or if our bodies will respond to the environment and create new microbes over time.