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Space & Astronomy

Could a dead astronaut spread life to Mars ?

By T.K. Randall
October 30, 2016 · Comment icon 9 comments

Future missions beyond the Earth's orbit will come with their own risks and challenges. Image Credit: NASA
If an astronaut dies in space, could their body eventually go on to spread microbes to other planets ?
If the deceased - perhaps cocooned within a spacesuit or spaceship - were to drift through the void and eventually be caught by the gravity of another world, could some of the microbes carried within that person's body go on to kick-start life on that planet ?

According to microbial biologist Gary King of Louisiana State University, the answer is probably 'yes'.

"We've pulled microbes out of permafrost, and there we're talking about organisms surviving around one million years in suspended animation," he said. "Especially if the trip is somewhere close, like to Mars, bacterial spores in the human body will survive for sure."
The possibility of this happening however would depend on a number of factors. For one, the body would need to be at least protected by the hull of a spacecraft to avoid being burnt up on entry.

It would also need to be ejected from the craft on its way down in order for the microbes to spread.

Perhaps the biggest factor of all however will be how long the body has been floating in space.

"When you talk about one-million-plus years with little radiation shielding, then I'd say we're talking about a very limited possibility of microbial survival," said King. "But I won't say impossible, if you only need one of the vast number of microbes on the human body to survive the trip."

Source: Astronomy Magazine | Comments (9)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by EBE Hybrid 7 years ago
Has anyone watched the video for 'Blackstar' by David Bowie, wouldn't it be cool if a whole eco-system could form by launching Major Tom into the void!
Comment icon #2 Posted by jarjarbinks 7 years ago
Yes it could. That's how life got here on Earth as seen in the movie Prometheus.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Vlawde 7 years ago
I'm not sure if any bacteria or whatever could survive in Mar's atmosphere. If that wasn't a factor, I'd guess it could
Comment icon #4 Posted by Parsec 7 years ago
You beat me on that. I was going to say that someone paid too much attention to Prometheus.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Four Winds 7 years ago
This creature says: "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt" he has also been known to say: "come at me bro"
Comment icon #6 Posted by Nnicolette 7 years ago
Why would you think bacteria could survive space but not mars atmosphere?
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
I wonder how the microbe(s) would survive entry into and atmosphere.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Astra. 7 years ago
This maysound a tad morbid - but if someone like anastronaut did die in space whilst still wearing the space suit. I wonder if the same processof decomposition would take place as we know it -as it does here on earth ?
Comment icon #9 Posted by Astra. 7 years ago
My curiosity in regards to my questionhasbeen satisfied.

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