[meteorite-list] Hitchhiking to Mars
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 2015 15:13:45 -0700 (PDT)
Hitchhiking to Mars
Story by Gianine M. Figliozzi, Space Biosciences Division, Ames Research Center
September 24, 2014
[NOTE: During the experiment the public can watch the progress of the
flight unfold by following the links to Fort Sumner Operations from NASA?s
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website at: http://towerfts.csbf.nasa.gov/]
Could some of the hardiest bacteria on Earth hitchhike on a Journey to
Mars and survive after landing in a new world? NASA researchers intend
to find out.
A helium-filled scientific balloon will soon carry bacteria to the edge
of space - Earth's stratosphere - exposing them to conditions similar to those
found on the surface of Mars. NASA researchers will measure how long the
bacteria can endure up there, and they also will study the biological
underpinnings of bacterial survival in harsh conditions.
Earth's stratosphere is an extreme environment. Situated above 99 percent
of Earth's protective atmosphere, conditions are dry, cold, and bathed
with intense ultraviolet solar radiation. The air pressure is so low it's
nearly a vacuum. For these reasons, Earth's stratosphere is a great stand-in
for the surface of Mars.
"If we want to discover life on other planets we need to know if we are
introducing Earth life as we explore,' said David J. Smith, scientist
in the Space Biosciences Division at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett
Field, California, and principal investigator for the study. "There are
terrestrial microorganisms that can survive space-like conditions. We
know some of these same microorganisms are onboard robotic spacecraft
so we need to be able to predict what will happen when they get to Mars."
A specialized hardware system that will be used for the study, Exposing
Microorganisms in the Stratosphere (E-MIST), was developed at NASA's Kennedy
Space Center in Florida. The E-MIST system was successfully flight tested
during a five hour balloon flight in 2014. A report on the test flight
was published in the December 2014 issue of Gravitational And Space Research.
Following this successful validation of the E-MIST system, the first full
science mission using the E-MIST system is planned to launch from NASA?s
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico on September
26. During this mission, similar to the 2014 test flight, the balloon
will ascend to altitudes upward of 120,000 feet.
"This weekend's flight will be a long duration float in the stratosphere"
said Smith. With the extended mission time, the researchers expect to
expose the bacteria to the Mars analog environmental conditions for separate
intervals of six, 12, 18 and 24 hours. 'I suspect the bacteria will survive,
but we just don't know until we fly them up there and take a look afterwards
in our lab," said Smith.
Before launch, NASA researchers will load bacteria samples into specialized
containers that can be opened or closed during flight by the E-MIST system.
Launching with closed containers will protect the bacteria from the elements
during ascent to Earth's stratosphere. Once the balloon reaches a target
altitude, the containers that hold the samples of bacteria will open.
At a series of specified time points, each container will close. To terminate
the flight, an explosive charge will detonate, tearing a hole in the balloon.
E-MIST and other science payloads attached to the balloon's gondola will
return to Earth under a parachute, where waiting researchers will recover
biological samples for analysis.
The E-MIST hardware system was built with funding from Rocket University,
a training program developed by Kennedy's Engineering and Technology Directorate
and supported by the NASA Office of the Chief Engineer. The E-MIST 2015
science mission is supported by the Core Technical Capabilities Special
Studies project at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida; the NASA Balloon
Program Office at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.;
and NASA's Space Biology Project at Ames.
Balloon launches are sensitive to local weather conditions and the launch
time may vary. Whatever the exact time the balloon takes flight, "I'll
be watching online from my office, and so can anyone else with a computer,"
said Smith. During the experiment the public can watch the progress of
the flight unfold by following the links to Fort Sumner Operations from
NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website at:
For more information about NASA's scientific balloon program watch the
video "B-Line to Space: The Scientific Ballooning Story."
Received on Tue 29 Sep 2015 06:13:45 PM PDT