A recent study on the performance of some microorganisms in low gravity environments such as Mars or on spacecraft follows. Their findings “demonstrate the potential for space biomineration and the principles of a reactor to advance human industry and mining beyond Earth.”
Here on Earth, scientists use certain microbes in a number of different industries because they are able to extract valuable elements from rocks.
Such elements include gold, copper and others that are valued for their physical properties such as magnetism.
This means they can be used in the production of electronics, metal alloys and other technologies.
To find out whether this would affect the performance of microbes, scientists from the European Space Agency conducted an experiment based on the International Space Station.
In the study, the scientists measured the ability of three different microbial species to extract 14 different useful elements from basalt rock.
The rock type was chosen because it is commonly found on the moon and Mars.
The scientists then put the microbes to work in a biomining reactor and observed the results after altering the simulated gravity inside.
They used three different forces of gravity: one that simulates Earth’s gravity; one that simulates the gravity of Mars; and one to microgravity.
They found that low-gravity conditions actually reduced the biomining effects of some microbes, but one – called S. desiccabilis – seemed to work well even in microgravity conditions.
Charles Cockell, an expert at the Center for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh and co-lead author of the study, told Space.com that the team was “surprised” with the results, “as microgravity is known to influence the behavior of fluids “.
The study report concluded: “In conclusion, our results demonstrate the biological extraction of economically important elements in space, in particular REE and in various extra-terrestrial gravitational environments.
“The experiment therefore shows the effectiveness of microbial-mineral interactions to promote the creation of a permanent self-sustaining human presence beyond the Earth and the technical means to do so.”
This weekend, four more astronauts will be launched on the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
It will be the first crew rotation mission on a commercial spacecraft, NASA said.