(Mirror Daily, United States) – It’s a well-known fact that in order to qualify for space travel, astronauts must be in peak physical condition. But just like everyone else here on Earth, they do get sick from time to time.
Despite the thorough sterilization of the cargo and the spacecraft before blasting off into space, astronauts can still carry viruses, bacteria, and mold on them and in them. In fact, according to a new study published in the journal Microbiome, the International Space Station is filled with potentially dangerous dust particles.
The new research is based on dust samples collected from vacuum bags and air filter used aboard the spacecraft. In spite of inconclusive data on whether or not the bacteria is unsafe for humans, study authors fear that microbes that are harmless on Earth could result in skin irritations or inflammation in space.
Astronauts and cosmonauts abroad the ISS are very much aware of the danger of contamination. Dust and dirt just float around in the spacecraft in the microgravity environment instead of settling, as they do on Earth. In addition, space weakens the immune system, causing astronauts to be more vulnerable to the smallest infection.
According to NASA’s website, the cleaning protocols meant to maintain a healthy environment on ISS are rather strict, and the crew also performs regular air and water tests. In the case of sickness, the astronauts are assisted by specialized medical equipment and first aid kits in order to diagnose and treat the ailment.
Crew is capable of handling basic medical situations, and if need be, they can consult with doctors on the ground. If extreme circumstances require it, the crew is also authorized to make an emergency trip back to Earth.
It’s essential to understand the way bacteria adapt to space travel in order to preserve astronauts’ health on future missions. So far, scientists know that such a different environment as the one on ISS is bound to change the response of bacteria, given the combination of exposure to space radiation, microgravity, elevated levels of carbon dioxide, the constant presence of humans in an enclosed space, and more.
A 2009 study discovered, for example, that salmonella bacteria are 3 to 7 times more virulent in space than on Earth. Known for the food poisoning it causes, salmonella would be a big problem if it weren’t for the irradiation that kills off any bacteria in the astronauts’ meals and snacks.
Image Source: Penny 4 NASA