Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment

Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment

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The Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE or Phobos LIFE) is an interplanetary mission developed by the Planetary Society
Planetary Society
The Planetary Society is a large, publicly supported, non-government and non-profit organization that has many research projects related to astronomy...

. It consists of sending selected microorganisms on a three-year interplanetary round-trip in a small capsule aboard the Russian Fobos-Grunt spacecraft in 2011, which is a sample-return mission to the Martian moon Phobos
Phobos (moon)
Phobos is the larger and closer of the two natural satellites of Mars. Both moons were discovered in 1877. With a mean radius of , Phobos is 7.24 times as massive as Deimos...

.

The goal is to test whether selected organism
Organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

s can survive a few years in deep space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

 by flying them through interplanetary space. The experiment will test one aspect of transpermia, the hypothesis that life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

 could survive space travel, if protected inside rocks blasted by impact off one planet to land on another.

The experiment


The project includes representatives of all three domains of life: bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

, eukaryota and archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

. The capsule is transporting 10 types of organisms in 30 self-contained samples, i.e., each is flown in triplicate for better science results. In addition, one or more natural native soil samples are flown in their own self contained capsule. The Phobos-Soil sample return mission is the only scheduled biological science mission that will return to Earth from deep space, far beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field; sending biological samples through deep space is therefore a much better test of interplanetary survivability than sending the samples on a typical Earth-orbiting flight.

The project is being done in collaboration with the Russian Space Research Institute
Russian Space Research Institute
The Russian Space Research Institute is the leading organization of the Russian Academy of Sciences on space exploration to benefit fundamental science....

, the Institute for Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Academy of Sciences
The Russian Academy of Sciences consists of the national academy of Russia and a network of scientific research institutes from across the Russian Federation as well as auxiliary scientific and social units like libraries, publishers and hospitals....

, the Moscow State University, the American Type Culture Collection
American Type Culture Collection
The American Type Culture Collection is a private, not-for-profit biological resource center whose mission focuses on the acquisition, authentication, production, preservation, development and distribution of standard reference microorganisms, cell lines and other materials for research in the...

 (ATCC), and the Institute for Aerospace Medicine in Germany.

Specimens


Three fundamental guidelines governed the selection of the organisms: First, the organisms selected represent the three domains of life
Three-domain system
The three-domain system is a biological classification introduced by Carl Woese in 1977 that divides cellular life forms into archaea, bacteria, and eukaryote domains. In particular, it emphasizes the separation of prokaryotes into two groups, originally called Eubacteria and Archaebacteria...

 – eukaryote
Eukaryote
A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes may more formally be referred to as the taxon Eukarya or Eukaryota. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear...

, bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 and archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

. Second, the organisms are very well studied (e.g., having their genome
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 sequenced and studied in many other experiments) to make it possible to accurately assess the effects of the long exposure to space. If they had already been studied in space conditions so much the better, since it would enable researchers to pinpoint precisely how organisms were affected by the years-long exposure to the interplanetary environment. Finally, a strong preference was given to organisms that appear to stand the best chance of surviving the journey. These are extremophile
Extremophile
An extremophile is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth. In contrast, organisms that live in more moderate environments may be termed mesophiles or neutrophiles...

s, organisms that thrive in conditions that would kill the vast majority of Earthly creatures.

The 10 'passenger' organisms selected are listed below:

Bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

  • Bacillus safensis
    Bacillus safensis
    Bacillus safensis is a bacterium, highly resistant to gamma and UV radiation, that has raised some concerns over a possibility of having been brought to the planet Mars with the two space probes Spirit and Opportunity in 2004....

    • Discovered in JPL
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. The facility is headquartered in the city of Pasadena on the border of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena...

      's 'clean' room: Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Might already be on Mars with Spirit
      Spirit rover
      Spirit, MER-A , is a robotic rover on Mars, active from 2004 to 2010. It was one of two rovers of NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity , landed on the other side of the planet...

       and Opportunity
      Opportunity rover
      Opportunity, MER-B , is a robotic rover on the planet Mars, active since 2004. It is the remaining rover in NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission...

      .
  • Deinococcus radiodurans
    Deinococcus radiodurans
    Deinococcus radiodurans is an extremophilic bacterium, one of the most radioresistant organisms known. It can survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid, and is therefore known as a polyextremophile and has been listed as the world's toughest bacterium in The Guinness Book Of World Records.-Name...

    • Is extremely resistant to radiation, can survive a dose of 5,000 Gy
      Gray (unit)
      The gray is the SI unit of absorbed radiation dose of ionizing radiation , and is defined as the absorption of one joule of ionizing radiation by one kilogram of matter ....

      .
  • Bacillus subtilis
    Bacillus subtilis
    Bacillus subtilis, known also as the hay bacillus or grass bacillus, is a Gram-positive, catalase-positive bacterium commonly found in soil. A member of the genus Bacillus, B. subtilis is rod-shaped, and has the ability to form a tough, protective endospore, allowing the organism to tolerate...

    , strain MW01
  • Bacillus subtilis
    Bacillus subtilis
    Bacillus subtilis, known also as the hay bacillus or grass bacillus, is a Gram-positive, catalase-positive bacterium commonly found in soil. A member of the genus Bacillus, B. subtilis is rod-shaped, and has the ability to form a tough, protective endospore, allowing the organism to tolerate...

    , strain 168
    • Very well known from other experiments. Flew to the Moon with Apollo and had multiyear exposure in low Earth orbit
      Low Earth orbit
      A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

      .

Archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

  • Haloarcula
    Haloarcula
    In taxonomy, Haloarcula is a genus of the Halobacteriaceae.- Description and Significance :Haloarcula are extreme halophilic archaeons. They are distinguished from other genera in the Halobacteriaceae family by the presence of specific derivatives of TGD-2 polar lipids...

     marismortui
    • If Mars had an ocean, it would have been very salty. H. marismortui is halophilic
      Halophile
      Halophiles are extremophile organisms that thrive in environments with very high concentrations of salt. The name comes from the Greek for "salt-loving". While the term is perhaps most often applied to some halophiles classified into the Archaea domain, there are also bacterial halophiles and some...

      .
  • Methanothermobacter
    Methanothermobacter
    In taxonomy, Methanothermobacter is a genus of the Methanobacteriaceae.-External links:...

     wolfeii
    • Mars Express
      Mars Express
      Mars Express is a space exploration mission being conducted by the European Space Agency . The Mars Express mission is exploring the planet Mars, and is the first planetary mission attempted by the agency. "Express" originally referred to the speed and efficiency with which the spacecraft was...

       has discovered methane in the Martian atmosphere. M. wolfeii is a methane-producing organism.
  • Pyrococcus furiosus
    Pyrococcus furiosus
    Pyrococcus furiosus is an extremophilic species of Archaea. It can be classified as a hyperthermophile because it thrives best under extremely high temperatures—higher than those preferred of a thermophile...

    • P. furiosus thrives at about 100°C, it will act as a maximum temperature indicator.

Eukaryote
Eukaryote
A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes may more formally be referred to as the taxon Eukarya or Eukaryota. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear...

  • Fungus
    Fungus
    A fungus is a member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds , as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified as a kingdom, Fungi, which is separate from plants, animals, and bacteria...

     – Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a species of yeast. It is perhaps the most useful yeast, having been instrumental to baking and brewing since ancient times. It is believed that it was originally isolated from the skin of grapes...

    (yeast)
  • Plant
    Plant
    Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

    ae – Seeds from Arabidopsis thaliana
    Arabidopsis thaliana
    Arabidopsis thaliana is a small flowering plant native to Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa. A spring annual with a relatively short life cycle, arabidopsis is popular as a model organism in plant biology and genetics...

    ('mouse-ear cress')
    • Flew to the Moon with Apollo.
  • Animal
    Animal
    Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

    ia – Tardigrade
    Tardigrade
    Tardigrades form the phylum Tardigrada, part of the superphylum Ecdysozoa. They are microscopic, water-dwelling, segmented animals with eight legs. Tardigrades were first described by Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773...

    s ('water bears')
    • Have survived vacuum and radiation in low Earth orbit.

Capsule design


The mass of the Bio-Module on board the Fobos-Grunt spacecraft, is 100 grams or less. The current design is a short cylinder
Cylinder (geometry)
A cylinder is one of the most basic curvilinear geometric shapes, the surface formed by the points at a fixed distance from a given line segment, the axis of the cylinder. The solid enclosed by this surface and by two planes perpendicular to the axis is also called a cylinder...

. The bio-module provides 30 small tubes (3 milimeter in diameter) for individual microbe samples. It also accommodates a native sample of bacteria—derived from a permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 region on Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 – within a cavity 26mm in diameter.

Criticism


Barry E. DiGregorio, the director of the International Committee Against Mars Sample Return, criticised the LIFE experiment on the Fobos-Grunt mission as a violation of the Outer Space Treaty
Outer Space Treaty
The Outer Space Treaty, formally the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, is a treaty that forms the basis of international space law...

 of 1967 due to its risk of contaminating Phobos or Mars with the microbial spores and live bacteria it contains. While the mission lands and returns from Phobos, a moon of Mars, the risk to Mars itself is from the possibility of Fobos-Grunt losing control and crash landing on the planet. It is speculated that the heat-resistant extremophile bacteria would be particularly able to survive such a crash, on the basis that heat resistant bacteria Microbispora survived the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the death of all seven crew members...

.

Precursor


Prior to the Phobos LIFE experiment, a precursor LIFE prototype was flown in 2011 aboard the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour is one of the retired orbiters of the Space Shuttle program of NASA, the space agency of the United States. Endeavour was the fifth and final spaceworthy NASA space shuttle to be built, constructed as a replacement for Challenger...

, STS-134
STS-134
STS-134 was the penultimate mission of NASA's Space Shuttle program. The mission marked the 25th and final flight of . This flight delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier to the International Space Station. Mark Kelly served as the mission commander...

, the Shuttle-LIFE (also called LIFE) experiment, which worked flawlessly.

Current status


The LIFE experiment was launched on November 8, 2011 on board the Fobos-Grunt spacecraft. The module passed stress tests including a shaketest with vibrations at frequencies to 1,100 Hz and an impact test of 4,000 g, designed to simulate the potential impact of the capsule on Earth.

The Fobos-Grunt mission was originally scheduled for launch in October 2009. During the year, officials admitted that the schedule was very tight, but still hoped until the last moment that a launch could be made. On 21 September, it was officially announced that the mission would be delayed to the next launch window in November 2011, at which time the launch had successfully taken place, although the spacecraft has failed to depart Earth orbit as planned. If the spacecraft could not be salvaged, it would undergo re-entry in the near future, destroying the capsule.

External links