Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Healthy Spaceship Is A Happy Space Ship Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image Credit: South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources)

Whether by fate or by chance, it seems that wherever humans set foot upon they end up bringing their microscopic friends along. While this obvious fact may seem trivial to most people, their unchecked presence on board star ships may spell certain doom for space traveling astronauts.

( Aboard Mir, colonies of organisms were also found growing on "the rubber gaskets around windows, on the components of space suits, cable insulations and tubing, on the insulation of copper wires, and on communications devices," said Andrew Steele, senior staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington working with other investigators at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Aside from being unattractive or an issue for human health, microorganisms can attack the structure of a spacecraft itself. "Microorganisms can degrade carbon steel and even stainless steel," Steele continued. "In corners where two different materials meet, they can set up a galvanic [electrical] circuit and cause corrosion. They can produce acids that pit metal, etch glass, and make rubber brittle. They can also foul air and water filters."

In short, germs can be as bad for a spacecraft's health as for crew health.

When Mir first launched into orbit, it was just as clean as any other man made interstellar object. The cosmonauts (and later astronauts) on board kept the space station tidy, cleaning the walls and floors as vigorous as Mr. Clean in the kitchen or bathroom.

But unfortunately nature does have a way of decaying even the best of our technology, and our space assets are no exception. Fortunately scientists are working on building the tools necessary to identify these microscopic nuisances, in order to not only keep future colonists healthy, but their spaceships (and biospheres) as well.

Update: Centered image.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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