An example of a lichen that was exposed to space conditions on the International Space Station for 18 months. Some lichens survived the ordeal and continued to grow in the laboratory. Several trays filled with organisms were installed on the outside of the European Columbus laboratory. Further units are continuing to study the effects of outer space on organisms and organic chemicals. The lichens have attracted interest from cosmetic companies. They can survive the full power of the Sun for 18 months, so knowing more could lead to new ingredients for suncream. Credits: Creative Commons-N. McAuley
You can freeze it, thaw it, vacuum dry it and expose it to radiation but still life survives. ESA’s research on the International Space Station is giving credibility to theories that life came from outer space – as well as helping to create better suncreams.
In 2008 scientists sent the suitcase-sized Expose-E experiment package to the Space Station filled with organic compounds and living organisms to test their reaction to outer space.
When astronauts venture on a spacewalk, hours are spent preparing protective suits to survive the hostile conditions. No effort was made to protect the bacteria, seeds, lichen and algae attached to the outside of the Space Station, however.
“We are exploring the limits of life,” explains ESA’s René Demets.