Earlier this week I did the usual daily update for the International Space Station. If NASA puts out an update, it gets included. However, I noticed something in paragraph 8 of the daily update that was of passing interest. A mind-tickle if you will.
“Skvortsov and Artemyev also collected residue samples from a window on Zvezda.”
Residue? As always I left this tickle to stew. I’m no expert on what they might have been looking for. We all get slime and goo and dead bugs on our windshields, right? Do we really want to know where it came from?
As I like to say when a bug hits the windshield, “I bet he’ll never have the guts to do that again.”
That being said, one of my team members stumbled across something a bit more in depth. Turns out Russian media is reporting that the “residue” in question is actually PLANKTON. Yes, that stuff from the ocean.
What? You can’t be serious!
Mind you, it’s still just speculation and conjecture, but it brings up a lot of questions. Where did it come from? How did it get there? Why would it even be there in the first place? How can it even survive?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
Plankton are marine and freshwater organisms that, because they are nonmotile or because they are too small or too weak to swim against the current, exist in a drifting, floating state. The term plankton is a collective name for all such organisms and includes certain algae, bacteria, protozoans, crustaceans, mollusks, and coelenterates, as well as representatives from almost every other phylum of animals. Plankton is distinguished from nekton, which is composed of strong-swimming animals, and from benthos, which includes sessile, creeping, and burrowing organisms on the seafloor. Large floating seaweeds (for example, Sargassum, which constitutes the Sargasso Sea) and various related multicellular algae are not considered plankton but pleuston. Organisms resting or swimming on the surface film of the water are called neuston (e.g., the alga Ochromonas).
Okay, so, except for having rocket engines to move it about, the space station is essentially always in a floating state, right? Cannot life take hold in extreme environments? That’s already been proven many times…most recently by researchers studying subglacial lakes below the West Antarctic ice sheet.
If extremophiles can exist in those conditions, why not space?
Too early to tell. But so far all my reputable sources are leery.
Image above: A portion of the International Space Station’s Russian segment with the newly attached “Georges Lemaitre” Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) to the Zvezda service module is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 40 crew member onboard the station. Image Credit: NASA