Because Mars is a big area of interest right now, especially with NASA and SpaceX wanting to send people to the red planet within the next couple of decades, you can bet we’re performing experiments in space to see just how habitable the red planet really is; can it support life?
An experiment recently took place on board the International Space Station, which involved attaching a special atmosphere controlled experimentation platform to the outside of the space station, made by the European Space Agency, to simulate the Martian atmosphere.
Inside of the experimentation platform, which was called the EXPOSE-E, were samples of fungi and lichens that were collected from rocks in Antarctica from Earth. The goal of the experiment was to see how well these fungi and lichen species could survive in the Martian conditions.
The inside of the module had an atmosphere that was 95% carbon dioxide, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen, 2.7% nitrogen, and 370 parts per million of water at a pressure of 1000 pascals. To further simulate the Martian environment, ultraviolet radiation was controlled to simulate radiation from the Sun since Mars has a significantly weaker magnetic field than the Earth does.
The fungi and lichens stayed inside of this controlled Martian-like environment for 18 months before scientists decided to look at the results.
Interestingly, the fungi and lichens had performed significantly well in the Martian-like environment, despite the doubts the researchers had. The findings are published in the journal Astrobiology.
“The most relevant outcome was that more than 60% of the cells of the endolithic communities studied remained intact after ‘exposure to Mars’, or rather, the stability of their cellular DNA was still high,” highlights Rosa de la Torre Noetzel from Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), co-researcher on the project.
Although 60% doesn’t seem like a high amount, it is when you consider living for a year and a half in conditions very different from here on Earth, where the air you rely on is significantly different, along with protection from radiation.
The new data gives scientists a better understanding of the long-term side effects of the Martian environment on life, and raises more questions as to how the Martian environment may impact other life forms.
This type of testing can also be used to invent technologies to help the life forms better survive in these conditions.