A recent article published by the Russian News Agency ITAR-TASS has made the unlikely claim that plankton, microscopic organisms typically found in the earth’s oceans, have been found on the surface of the International Space Station. These space faring plankton wouldn’t be the first microorganisms to survive (and even thrive) in space. However, it is important to treat this press release with a fair deal of skepticism. For one, Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) isn’t saying how the samples were collected or analyzed or even whether it was an intentional scientific experiment or testing for what might build up on ISS surfaces.
Even if the plankton is real, there’s the question of whether the plankton made its way up to the ISS by some hitherto unknown mechanism or whether it’s simply a contaminant picked up during the launch of one of the components. As with all scientific discoveries, it is important to wait for a peer-reviewed article before it is possible to better evaluate the claim of space plankton.
For another, more satirical take on the press release, see Plaaaaaaaannnkktooooonnnnn In Spaaaaaccccce
Edited by SITN Waves Editor Adam Brown. Special thanks to Heather Olins, member of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University for her detailed insight.