Who is our biggest enemy in space?
China recently launched its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. A huge rocket took off from Hainan Province, carrying a rover on board, which is due to land on the Red Planet early next year. Emirates Mars Mission, in turn, was the first immersion of the Arab world in interplanetary travel. On July 30, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover finally took off from Florida.
For many nations, the cosmos is beginning to become the great goal of conquest. Although we are starting to make the journey through it faster and farther, there are still many unknowns. For example, its effect on biological substances, such as ourselves.
The possibilities seem endless, but so do the dangers. One of them can be found on Earth, as the smallest form of life – bacteria. They live in us and around us. So whether we like it or not, we carry them wherever we go, including in the vastness of space. This means that they are also influenced by his different environment.
Less gravity is a problem
Gravity has always been a factor in the evolutionary processes of the Earth. We are not used to its absence. When it is significantly weaker or absent, it affects all Earth organisms. In space, it is in minimal quantities. Therefore, processes such as precipitation, convection and buoyancy are also not valid in the same values. Conversely, phenomena such as surface tension and capillarity become more intense. We do not know how these changes will affect living organisms.
Microorganisms are a silent killer
Studies from space missions show that bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics and more deadly when exposed to microgravity. They remain so for some time after returning to Earth. In addition, bacteria appear to mutate faster in space. Fortunately, these mutations are more for the purpose of adaptation. More research is needed to say whether they could lead to more infections in the long run.
Bacteria work with each other and this is bad news
Microgravity also causes the formation of a biofilm of bacteria. These are cell colonies that produce a matrix of polymeric substances that allow bacteria to attach to each other and to different surfaces. They increase their resistance to antibiotics, make their survival easier and improve their ability to cause infections. There are examples of attaching biofilms to equipment in space. Over time, this leads to biodegradation.
For example, biofilms have affected the navigation window, air conditioners, the oxygen electrolysis unit, the water recycling unit and the Mir space station’s thermal control system. Prolonged exposure can lead to malfunctions in these systems, which in turn can lead to catastrophic consequences.
Another effect of microgravity on bacteria is that it distorts their structure. In some, the cells shrink and the number increases when they are exposed to it. Bacterial cells with a small area interact less with the molecules and this reduces the effect of antibiotics on them. The absence of sedimentation and buoyancy is very possible to change the way bacteria absorb substances designed to attack them. Space flights will only get longer in the future. Infecting with a disease that cannot be treated on board would be disastrous.
The benefits of space exploration
On the other hand, some effects of the environment in space are beneficial to life on Earth. For example, molecular crystals grow much larger and symmetrical under the influence of microgravity. The better shaped they are, the more effective it is to extract drugs that treat Cancer and Parkinson’s. Also, many molecules cannot form on Earth. Their crystallization in space will contribute to a more detailed study of their structure. This will also help to develop new drugs.
The more time people spend in outer space, the more benefits and dangers will be revealed. There is no doubt that this environment, which is still new to us, hides many risks, but also many benefits.