Space & Astronomy
Could a dead astronaut spread life to Mars ?
By T.K. Randall
October 30, 2016 · 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
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