Okay, at first this might seem a little ... odd, but once you start learning the details it will start to make sense. So, here it is: You may have heard of kombucha. In case you haven't, or in case you've heard of it, but you're not entirely sure what it is, it's a beverage made from fermented tea. Eurasians, the originators of the brew, have been making and drinking it for centuries, touting its many health benefits. You may have heard of it more recently being served in trendy new artisanal shops in... I don't know, Williamsburg? Basically, you take some sweet tea, add some bacteria and yeast, let it sit for a while and bang! kombucha!: a drink that doesn't taste good, but is supposedly wicked good for you. So, believe it or not, the ESA (that's short for the European Space Agency) has taken the bacteria and yeasts used to make kombucha, put them in a container, called Expose-R2 and bolted it to the outside of the International Space Station.
Really? Yes, really. Here's why: You may remember news reports from a few years ago of bacteria found in meteorite fragments. This led biologists to start theorizing that some microorganisms could survive a trip through space, unprotected, on a meteor. It also made them start thinking that perhaps this is how life, or at least bacteria, first came to Earth. Tests here on Earth, exposing a number of microorganisms to the simulated conditions found in space have shown that they likely can, but there's only one way to be sure. And, hey, we've got the ISS, and it's not like the experiment takes up space inside the station. So... the organisms that make kombucha, along with a number of other organisms, are now inside an experimental module called Expose-R2, bolted to the outside of the ISS, exposed to space, circling the Earth.
This is footage of fossilized bacteria found inside meter fragments under an electron microscope.
And get this: it's not the first time microorganisms have been tested in this manner. Previous ESA 'Expose' studies have shown that a whole host of microorganisms, including tardigrades, otherwise known as water bears, and lichens can survive the quite harsh conditions of space including unfiltered solar light, cosmic radiation, vacuum, and massive temperature changes. In these experiments scientists are observing not just wether or not these microorganisms survive, but the mechanisms by which they survive. Kombucha cultures, for example, protect themselves against the conditions in space by making a cellulose-based structure to resist high temperatures and radiation. Even though it is created by microorganisms, this biofilm is thick enough to see with the naked eye.
You know, there are myths in the Caucuses, the area where kombucha originated, that the grains of bacteria used to make kombucha were given to Mohamed by God, and then Mohamed gave them to the people of the Caucuses. God is always thought of as being in the heavens, or the sky, or... space. Could it be... ?