Well this is interesting: an article on CNET by Eric Mack, based on a Nov. 27 report from the Russian news agency TASS, discusses findings by Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov that “living bacteria from outer space” were found within samples collected during spacewalks several years ago (Shkaplerov was a member of Expedition 42 in November 2014.)
The samples were swabbed from outside surfaces of the International Space Station, including areas where engine fuel waste is expelled, and brought back to Earth for study. In addition to some terrestrial bacteria that were accidentally brought to the ISS via contaminated computer tablets, there were also living organisms found that “were absent during the launch of the ISS module.”
“That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface,” Shkaplerov stated. “They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger.”
According to Mack’s article NASA has yet to issue any statements on the matter.
Now before we can claim discovery of aliens (even teeny-tiny microscopic ones) we need to establish where they came from. Considering our planet and pretty much everything and everyone on it is covered/filled with a veritable zoo of microorganisms, the likeliest answer is that any bacteria found in low-Earth orbit are, in fact, from Earth.
Bacteria have been found living not only miles underground but also miles up in the atmosphere. Is it possible that some species of microorganisms could also be drifting around in the microgravity environment of low-Earth orbit, impervious to the drastic temperature changes and airless, pressureless, radiation-rich environment of space? Well, sure.
It will be interesting to find out what sort of creatures Shkaplerov actually found hitching a ride on the ISS in 2014. Perhaps future experiments can collect more samples—he’s heading back up to orbit this December. Maybe the bacteria they found are just an unidentified species of a terrestrial strain, or perhaps even a new, as-yet-undiscovered species that exists solely in the uppermost layers of the atmosphere (which actually extends out to about 300 miles…even farther than where the ISS orbits.) But true extraterrestrial “alien” life forms? I for one will remain skeptical.
(Now if the bacteria starts trying to shake hands, we’re all doomed.)