Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

Space Fungus Eating Mir (Really) 285

dublin writes: "The Boston Globe has a good article about how Mir is being eaten alive by virulent fungi. The fungi, which are found both inside and outside the aging space station, are rampant to the point that a cosmonaut has said, "There were areas you wouldn't want to stick your hand in." NASA reports that some of these fungi can attack and weaken plastics and even metals. "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Space Fungus Eating Mir (Really)

Comments Filter:
  • The Fungus is among us!
  • by ^Z ( 86325 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @11:50PM (#736765) Homepage Journal
    Organisms that can eat plastic don't know that they're only supposed to eat it in landfills. After 'decomposing landfills completely' they gladly will eat plastic everywhere they find it (including your computer case) %-) Biotechnology should be used accurately, lest it become bio-hazard.

    To make fungi (or bacteria) mutate by using strong radiation, one does not have to use space station; gamma guns, etc, are readily available on the Earth and, AFAIK, are widely used to generate mutations in bacteria. Same applies to vacuum pumps. One has a good chance to find both things in any decent bio lab.

    But the whole story about fungi growing in vaccum seems pretty... err.. fantastic. Fungi spores are known to survive space vacuum and radiation; but live species are known to die at such levels of radiation and such temperature leaps. More, things that get sent to space stations undergo severe decontamination, and it includes steriziation of pretty much everything. (My parents worked at a space launch facility, so I know it not from books only %-)) So it seems quite unprobable for some fungi to come unnoticed to a space station, not to say to proliferate there.
  • "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" - Ado

    Ado? Mr Hitler to you!
  • And who could forget...


    or some number for "computer overload" that didn't even happen in the book as far as I can remember.

    Yep, Sphere was totally butchered too.

    How will they destroy Timeline...? Stay Tuned!
  • Yeast is a fungus not a bacteria. But you knew that. All fungii can in shorter spans live without oxygen by fermentation
    but the byproduct (alcohol) will kill them quite rapidly.

    But there are other reasons why it is unpossible for a fungii to live on the outside of MIR.
    First the temperature is low, slowing the life speed down.The sun could warm the surface,but not enough.
    The second is the lack of water, fungii need water to feed, and I'm certain that the water would
    1) freeze
    2) evaporate, making survival impossible.
    And thirdly the first issue with the toxication of the fungii by it's byproducts of fermentation.
    So I'm quite certain that the fungii found on the MIR was inside where it's warm, damp and lot of nice things to eat like dead human
    cells :).
    There are bacteria that can live without oxygen. These are called Arcaebacteria and lives in sulfur vents
    on the bottom of the sea and in rock and similar places. One could phantom one of these living in the hull of MIR.
    But how would they be transfered from the rock to MIR and would they find sulpur to live on\in...
  • Are you on crack?

    The guy that made that statement was Jerry Linenger, an astronaut from the USA!

    Did you read that story?

    Slashdot, did you research that story!?

  • ... and toss it at all the space junk up there. -= Stefan
  • There were dormant bacteria that survived being left on the moon for 2 years inside the Surveyeor 3 camera retreived by the Apollo 12 astronauts.
  • AFAIK (can't find a specific citation right now), yes, they have pondered it. It is a source of great debate among those who mess with exobiology (which IMHO can't be said to really exist yet as a field).

    The trick here is the difference between a probe going to Mars and a panel going to Mir. A Mars probe may be hermetically sealed inside a capsule and sterilized with ungodly amounts of heat. That capsule may then be launched and the probe deployed. On its descent to the surface, the probe gets to undergo re-entry, which forms (at least in an Earth atmosphere --- I don't know if this is true of Mars as well, but it probably is) a superheated plasma around the craft. (There are some things not even bacteria can survive, and ionized particle bombardment is one.) I believe that probes were also designed to be able to sterilize their internal sample containers and their gathering equipment.

    Now compare this to a bit of Mir. It's loaded in a shuttle bay, and spends a few days in there with sweaty astronauts. They handle it. It is never sterilized or sealed away. Humans have ungodly amounts of organisms on us. Contamination is inevitable.

    You want a sterile station? Sterilize and seal each piece, sterilize and seal the transport bay, and do not let humans anywhere near it, not even in space suits (the outside of the suit gets contaminated by shuttle air). Touch it only with sterilized and isolated robot arms. In short, take all the same precautions that a Class 4 virology lab does, and perhaps more.

    Of course, how you're going to get all the necessary equipment onto an orbiter is your engineering problem, not mine. :-)
  • Yes, my bad, lactic fermentation is an anaerobic process.

    When the cells are unable to provide enough ATP, they resort to breaking down glucose by glycolysis into pyruvic acid, and then into lactic acid. This process only yields 2 ATP per glucose, but it's very quick. It's much like comparing an internal combustion gasoline powered-engine to solid fuel booster rockets.

    The aerobic process in cell metabolism is respiration, the process of converting oxygen and glucose into water and carbon dioxide by breaking glycolysis down into pyruvic acid, and then into acetic acid. From there, it goes through the Kreb cycle to produce ADP, which is combined with another phosphate to produce ATP. This process takes much longer than fermentation, but is much more efficient.


    "I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."
  • I would have thought the exact opposite!

    I can well believe fungus could grow on the outside - but surely there isn't mush room inside...
  • Why does this sound like the plot for a really bad sci-fi movie?

    Alien Files [] - horny space fungi that become horny Earth girls.

    Now, does that sound like a bad sci-fi movie to you?
  • don't forget the chance that the rocket you are on going up to Mir might blow up too.

    This is not particularly dangerous, and actually it happened before (once, as I recall). Soyuz vehicles have an autonomous, very simple and powerful solid fuel rocket right on top of the capsule where cosmonauts are. In case of fire/explosion on launch that rocket detaches the capsule and brings it few kilometers away from the launch pad. This happens very quickly, and accelerations are substantial (like 10+ g) but not unbearable for few seconds.

    The Shuttle never had such system and still doesn't have.

  • If you've ever been anywhere where they make alcohol, such as the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, TN (I live down the road from it!), and leaned over the vats very far, you can't breathe because of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process. Not to mention it smells terrible.

    I can vouch for the JD smell.


  • I don't know, but whoever wins would do well to bring along plenty of Desenex and Lotrimin...

    Hey! There's the first two sponsors for the program! :-)


  • What else would you expect from the people who brought you Lenin, Communism,

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't communism start in Germany, with Marx and Engels?
  • The guy who produced Survivor was supposed to create a show that had folks competing to be launched to Mir.....sort of reminds me of a bad W.C Fields joke....

    First prize is 1 week on Mir
    Second prize is TWO weeks.

  • You're right about the lunar missions, but the Hubble repair mission was done by the space shuttle, which is not designed to go beyond the van Allen radiation belts. Hubble is in the same type of near-Earth orbit that the shuttle takes, not geosynchronous orbit like communication satellites. Remember, the only reason for geosynchronous orbit is to stay stationary above one point on the Earth. Hubble has not these concerns. It's looking the other way!

  • Ah, now I know that my space training facility is even more accurate than I thought. The fungal blooms creeping in the corners and shadows are now a welcome addition to my home, rather than a hated nuisance. I may not have constant high levels of gamma radiation, but I watch a lot of TV, and run the microwave nearly 24/7.

    • Space Training Checklist
    • High radiation flux
    • Liquid diet
    • Limited shower priviliges
    • Weakness acclimation regime
    • Rampant potent fungus infestation
  • Was I the only one who imagined the episode Terminal [] of the classic B-grade scifi TV series Blake's 7?

    - Sam

  • And why does condensation get everywhere?

    Answer that question (it's a three part answer) and you'll see why your response is "correct" but not accurate or adding any information

    "Where am I?"
    "In a helicopter..."
    Do you work for MS my Anonymous friend?

    Ok here's the answers to why condensation gets everywhere:
    1) They are in zero g.
    2) They have low-power cooling/heating systems and very little water and oxygen (they don't take showers, for example) so they can't dry the air, vent waste air immediately, or wash down the "decks" with fungus-killing detergent.
    3) They don't have an oxygen/water making facility next door and a big powerplant to facilitate the actions described in point 2.

    All these points are addressed on Mars. Oh yeah, and the other thing:

    They DO have a janitor on board. What do you think the pilot does on Space Shuttle missions whilst on-orbit? S/He basically cleans the space potty. It's an extremely important job.

    I would be interested in your response.
  • I guess they ran out of Space Tinactin.

  • Mir,

    What have I told you about unsafe docking procedures? Everytime you dock with a ship, you're docking with every other space station they've docked with. And who knows what kind of payload they were carrying? I knew this would happen sooner or later, with the rate you're going. Times are changing, this isn't the Space Age anymore.

  • Ok, Please do some investigation into this more closely. Just because the fungus was first noticed on a Porthole doesn't mean it was found on the *OUT*side of the porthole. This is a completely internal Fungus. It's all fungus that's gotten there from the visitors to the Station, and probably from it's original launch. This is not an Outside fungus so powerful that it lives in space. It's all just fungus we TOOK up there. The only reason it's a problem is because all the equipment can't be TAKEN apart and cleaned up while it's still in space. To get all the Fungus cleaned out they'd have to dissasemble the thing. In fact, the most dangerous funguses are probably the ones that are in components that are mostly sealed and won't allow any disinfectants into them. The funguses will grow and corrode the whole component if nothing can be done.

    Read the article:
    "They consume organic stuff which consists of skin epithelia, lipids and other products of human activity," Novikova said. "These products get into the station atmosphere from human breath, sweat etc....and stick to the station's surfaces."

    "Bacteria and fungi eat this stuff and generate products of metabolism, particularly organic acids which can corrode steel, glass and plastic."

    The only reason it's called Space Fungus is because the station is in Space, and therefore subject to a more direct amount of radiation than when on earth.
  • They should fire their reverse thrushters.
  • Who knows what may become of this seemingly harmless 'space mold'...

    I wonder if it will like Costarican coffee?
  • Ice Pirates []
    Why Ah Must Scribble GNU
  • space fungus.

    - A.P.

    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • It doesn't say anywhere in the article that these fungus have evolved to survive in vacuum, despite /. editor claims. Why can't the cosmonauts simply slap on suits, and depressurize the station for a few hours?
  • So now we know life can grow inside the spaceship... it'll be interesting to see if they find a variety that lives (or at least survives) in a vacuum.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    is probably from Florida. I went to vacation in Florida for 1 week, came back to California with nasty contagious blisters which spread all over my feat. Also note that the space shuttle takes off from Florida and there was a NASA mission to the Mir. The little buggers on my feet will stop at nothing short of universal domination.
  • by JohnDB ( 51703 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @05:28PM (#736795)
    So... Is this going to put a hold on Destination: MIR, or just change it into the competition where an ordinary person gets a chance to be eaten alive by space fungi?

  • I am a little surprised that this fungus could live outside of the MIR. The environment in not simply oxygen deficient... it is pressure deficient, which should cause the fungus to evaporate - at least its liquids.After all, even a fungus has to respect partial pressures!

    Also, the temperature can be expected to change from extremely cold to extremely hot, unless the MIR is stablized relative to the sun.
  • I may be missing something but isn't finding life not from the planet Earth an incredibly huge breakthrough? I mean, doesn't this open up the door on decades worth of further research? It seems to me that if finding a little water on the moon makes front-page news in the national papers, then surely, this would be big-ass-coverstory material. Maybe I just have to wait for tommorrows paper. This may seem a little naive, considering the lack of its mention in the rest of the replies. I
  • Well, it'll give the Mir cosmonauts something to keep their mind off the fires and collisions.
  • Gives new meaning to the term "Space Herpes". (Ice Pirates, anyone?)
  • lets make a "the end is near" type website wish spouts fear-instilling messages about how the space fungus is going to kill us all and eat our beloved cars.

    we will also personally welcome the space fungus to planet earth, and offer to help them in their conquest needs.

    i think it would be funny, especially if it looked real professional.

    i'd even be willing to help with design and implementation.
  • I meant to put "breaking glucose down by glycolysis," but I got ahead of myself ;)


    "I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."
  • I wonder if they've really thought about that.

    Certainly! That's why many, if not most, scientists are opposed to sending people to Mars before a rather exhaustive robotic exploration has been done.

  • i suppose those spores aren't an alien life form like the article implies. it sounds far more plausible that the spores have been on the spacecraft before liftoff and mutated into their current form over time. that would explain why they can be related to other fungus found on earth.
    besides, how high is the mir's orbit? i guess chances are that it's well within the (rapidly thinning, but still) earth's atmosphere.

  • I guess this means a manned interstellar journey is out of the question, in the near term, anyway. Such a journey would surely succumb to a choking fungi invasion long before they would reach their destination. Even the slightest mishap with contamination would spell certain doom in a matter of days or weeks. Think of the overloaded air filters trying to scrub out the dead skin cells, the little flecks of snot and spit, food and hair, all of it fit for fungi consumption. A veritable cornucopia, a veritable horn of plenty for spacewort ,as I've taken to refering to it.

    The only surefire means of avoiding this fate, that I can think of, is for such interstellar ships to feature a balanced ecosphere with plants, animals, microbes and insects, co-mingled with the crew quarters and the ship common areas.

    This story offers up pretty solid indication that the risk of fungi infestation aboard long-term spacecraft is very real. The ecosphere ship is the only obvious solution, as mechanical filtering and sanitization services are almost garunteed failure at some point. I'll be certain to point all this out to any Hollywood writer-types I bump in to.

  • by Anne Marie ( 239347 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @08:49PM (#736819)
    Yeasts are funguses. Specifically, they're monocellular funguses.
  • These fungi are hereby ordered to cease and desist their attack on Mir, on account of breaking Intergalactic copyright, to wit:

    • Blake's 7, season 3 finale
    • Quatermas I

    Failure to stop this action will result in orders from Comissioner Sleer (a-la Servalan) to wipe out all organic life in a 3 million spacial radius.

  • There simply is no (none) known way to completely sterilize anything on earth. Every attack against bacteria (and fungus) gives good results- up to a point.

    You use soap. Antibiotics. Radiation. Ultrasound. You use vacuum. Use water and pressure. You curse them and you kill 99.9999% of them. It never matters. They survive, and they come back, and multiply again.

    Quite simply, the entire Earth is completely infected with bacteria. Wherever there is a exothermic reaction on earth, they are there. Every dust partical large enough to support one has one. Every drop of water, every grain of dirt has them in abundance. All animals are covered in bacteria. Hint: you don't use soap against dirt, you use it against bacteria in dirt.

    Yes we need them to survive, but we don't like that, and we don't like them. But, even in conditions which no animal can survive, like vacuum, they still infect and eat and reproduce and sometimes freeze dry to wait for water to come alive again.

    The lesson here is: we are dirty, we are infected, and we always will be. Everything we build, every place we put it, every time we do it, will never be ours alone.

  • Will this ever stop? Just two articles down, doesn't it say:

    Red Space Station Infested With Bugs?
  • Well, we've got an Earth environment in orbit. But it's an environment that is not balanced. We need to add things that eat fungus, and things that eat those things, and things that eat those things that eat the fungus... but none of them should eat wires...
  • Why don't you pour some into a fish tank and then ask the fish?
  • (they don't take showers, for example)

    Actually they do. Space station != shuttle.

  • This fungi could be put into good use! It can be used to clear space junk..

    Eg. A small space scarft could home in on pieces of space junk, and spray it with the fungus colture.. In a few weeks time, the space junk gets eaten, and our astronauts / cosmonuts are safer :)
  • In the 1970's the USSR placed on mars a probe that contained a piece of paper with the signature of Leonid Bhreznev on it. Do you really think they sterilized it?

    I'm just reading KenMcLeod's "The Sky Road" and it has a the amusing reflection that scientists arrive on mars to find it is being very slowly
    terraformed by microbes descended from Leonid Bhreznev's sweat.
  • Water is recycled, waste is placed in used cargo ships and burned with them in the atmosphere.
  • "I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

  • First, "Red Hat Linux 7 Infested With Bugs", and now, "Space Fungus Eating Mir". Anyone see a pattern here?

    I'm half-anxious and half-afraid to hear what bizarre disaster is going to happen next. Watch out, someone might DDoS some Russian servers in Siberia and send some nukes coming our way! Be prepared, if there's something that history has taught us, it's the fact that sh*t happens.

  • This seems like an all-to-appropriate metaphor for our planet's decaying interest in space exploration. Thirty years ago we were racing to put a man on the moon. Now we're racing, watch our spacestation get eaten by mold because there isn't any such thing as an astronaut janitor.

  • Decades of science fiction notwithstanding, it now seems the great threat to space exploration comes not from technologically advanced alien races, but from the same lowly fungi that attack dorm-room refrigerators.

    AHHHHHH!!! If this fungus is anything like the one that was in _MY_ dorm-room refrigerator, they need to abandon ship and send it to crash into Jupiter or Uranus! Towards the end I didn't even open the fridge. I threw the whole thing away. I shudder to think of what it looked like by that time. SHUDDER

  • by Flounder ( 42112 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @05:30PM (#736876)
    it'll be interesting to see if they find a variety that lives (or at least survives) in a vacuum.

    Ever been to a Star Trek convention?

  • Well, one really good reason is so if we *find* Martian life, we'll be pretty sure that it is from Mars, or at least got there from ancient impacts with Earth and didn't tag along on the last space flight. This is why NASA doesn't want Gallileo to crash into Europa (or whichever moon they think has a chance of life).
  • Grgory Benford and David Brin wrote a book entitled Heart of the Comet where a mission to land on Halley's Comet gets vigorously affected by nothing less than a space-borne purple "fungus."

    In the novel, it turns out to be a potent force for both danger and salvation.

    If the Gentle Scientists can't beat the fungus, it may be a neat move to try to find ways to make it outright useful.

  • I suggest that the Mir astronauts hunt around their station and look for a plate of rotting meat. That's probably the source of the virulent fungi! The StinkMeat Project [] goes where no man has gone before ...

  • You really should bare in mind that the fungus eats the spaceship as food.

    This would end up doing a spaceship -> astronaut food conversion which may not be considered in an entirely positive light by the astronauts.

  • by BluBrick ( 1924 ) <blubrick&gmail,com> on Monday October 02, 2000 @10:23PM (#736894) Homepage
    I have no answers, but I do have questions.

    Could this pose a threat to other orbital bodies? At least Mir has residents who could do a bit of cleaning once in a while. Not so, your typical comms satelite. Space could end up looking like my kitchen; full of fuzzy dishes.

    Could we use these fungi to biodegrade all the space junk that has been left daggin' about up there? Let them eat the Iridium network into safe little itty-bitty pieces. I know it's a really long term exercise, but the price is right!

    Could we make fungi the first Lunar or Martian colonists, possibly even paving the way to a long-term, low-cost preliminary terraforming experiment?

    While the fungus itself may not be able to exist in total vacuum, I have NO doubt that its spores could float about for many years until they land on another metal, plastic or even rock substrate. So I suspect it could spread. The onliest thing is, do we let it happen by accident, or do we make some effort to harness it?

  • Heheh, good ants reference from the Simpsons where Homer Simpson crashes into the Ant Farm. ;)

  • I can understand these things growing INSIDE the cabin. Lots of moisture probably, and heat. I read the related article, but is this stuff actually growing OUTSIDE mir? That would be kinda wacky, fungus growing in a complete vaccuum. Maybe there is some sort of CO2 and H20 rich microenvironment just outside of mir that it can use to grow. One thing for sure, to is that there is a LOT of radiation flying around in space. The article points out that it could cause the fungus to mutate into something more virulent. Don't panic though, because I think most all of the mutations would be lethal, especially since it has adapted to live in a weird environment like that. Of course it's that one wacky mutation that slips through that can make something weird happen. But from what i've studied, it takes a pretty freaking long time for random mutations to confer major advances in the way a complex organism lives.
  • I know I saw this. This further lowers my opinion of the major TV networks. NBC, a major American TV network, is trying to cash in on the current so-called "voyeuristic" TV craze by sending someone up to the Mir space station. I think it said it'll happen in 2001 or 2002. I bet they didn't know about the little fungus problem at the time... which further eliminates my non-existant desire to go to Mir.

    Now, if it was a hoax, then I wonder how I saw a commercial for it during the closing ceremony of the Olympics. But it does seem pretty incredible to me that an _American_ company would want to send someone to a floating piece of junk. (No, wait. I said "American." Never mind..)

    Haaz: Co-founder, LinuxPPC Inc., making Linux for PowerPC since 1996.

  • This could be a good thing. If a fungus can be cultivated in a vacuum, then can we cultivate other types of plant life in a vacuum. Could this be a source of food for an extended space voyage?
  • I would like to claim prior art on this one so that when "Mission to Mir" comes out this fall, i can sue the fsck out of CBS and never have to work...

    and that means more posts for you guys!

    Bo-nes....we need more anti....bacterial soap!

    Damnit jim, i'm a Doctor not a custodial engineer!!!

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • "...the fires and collisions."

    The burning and scratching... maybe it's cause and effect...

  • What else would you expect from the people who brought you Lenin, Communism,

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't communism start in Germany, with Marx and Engels?
    Marxist communism dosn't really have a whole lot of in common with what was practiced by Lenin & Stalin, and their successors in the USSR. The relationship is akin to comparing the practice of "democracy" in classical Athens or pre-Imperial Rome to what is practiced in modern America.

    "The axiom 'An honest man has nothing to fear from the police'

  • "As usual there is little (intelligence) to be found at /. It never fails to amaze me how low the reading comprehension on this site is. I'll bet if you read the second (of three) sentence again, you'll be the first to discover a strain that DOES live in space!
    Nothing in the article states that the Fungi live on the outside of MIR. I'm not willing to make the assumption that Hemos made when writing up the header. While it's possible (even likely) for spores to survive exposure to the hard vacuum of space, the lack of an atmosphere should keep them from living in space. If they do find fungii outside, that would be major news, especially if it's growing.
  • I was thinking they could just open up an airlock and kill the stuff with a quick vacuum. That is, assuming the fungi needs air to exist (which I surmise it would).
  • Persistant, itchy, flaky, space station?
  • Scary considering this post to /. last week:
    Slime Mold Demonstrates Primitive Intelligence [].

    Personally I see a great take off on The Planet of the Apes, where instead of human astronauts returning to Earth after eons in space, only to find apes have evolved into the dominant sentient life forms on the planet, we instead have a space ship crash to earth in the distant future carrying a mutated fungus that is now sentient (and can move freely) that takes over the Earth replacing humans as the dominant sentient life form.

  • Maybe they need a little ultraviolet-emitting robot crawling around and inside things. Just like an aquarium needs some fish/snail which keep the glass clean. Have to design it to keep away from warm human bodies, to avoid UV in the eyeballs.
  • Several years ago bacteria inside a Russian space camera were analyzed. They'd gotten there accidentally...but they were there and survived to be analyzed. So, yes, there are Earth bacteria in space objects. For that matter, some have probably been blown off the top of the atmosphere also...
  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @05:42PM (#736968)
    If they find out if this stuff can eat away plastic, then maybe we can figure out a way to contain them and put them to use to eat away non-decomposable plastic items in landfills - heck, just let them decompose landfills completely.

    Space laboratory for fungus-based pharmaceutical research should also be interesting - after all, with the conditions being really good for mutations, they may discover new drugs created by bacteria sooner.

    The only downsides are that if these mutated bacteria/fungi turn out to be deadly and highly contagious and gets back to earth, it could spell doom for humanity. You could just see Hollywood jump on this kind of story to make the next doom-gloom movie, Armageddon and its ilk.

  • ... where an extremely senior space scientist debunks the whole article.

    But for Linenger, who was almost killed by a fire during his stay on Mir, the lure of exploration will always outweigh dangers such as microbial infestation. Climbing into a rocket is like 'climbing onto a pile of explosives,' he explained. 'There are just too many other things to worry about.'
    This article as a whole was tantamount to "Aliens ate my Elvis baby" rubbish. It does no credit to the Globe.

    It's a worry when major newspapers become so desperate for column inches they beat up what is essentially a no-story into a show stopper for the space program as a whole.

    This "finding" has absolutely no relevance to a humans-to-Mars program. To put up one trivial reason: Mars-tronauts would have plentiful water as a by-product of their in-situ propellant production, thus they would be able to wash themselves and the interior of their spacecraft at will. The expense of trucking water to orbit is one reason that there is a fungus "problem" on Mir.

    This reminds me strongly of that other supposed Mars mission "show stopper" - zero gravity. "We can't send humans there, because they'd come out as cripples after 18 months of zero g." BALDERDASH. There is no requirement to send them out zero g at all! A half-mile tether to the upper stage going at about 1 rpm would create mars equivalent gravity for the crew on their spacecraft - with the added advantage of being able to construct floors.

    It isn't rocket science! (Well it is but you know what I mean!)
  • This pretty much refutes the past assertion among the space community that space is too hostile (radiation, extreme heat & cold) to support microbial/fungal life

    Sources, please. What "space community" ever claimed that? Vague terms like that are weasel words. In fact, it has long been accepted that microbes may be able to traverse space, especially if encased within an object such as a meteoroid. NASA has certainly never taken this view: the Apollo astronauts underwent decontamination and medical checks. NASA scientists studying Mars lander data (Viking, Pathfinder) have warned that Earth-origin microbes could contaminate samples and skew results.

    So, now that you've demolished a straw man, where's the rest of your argument? :)

    If fungi, bacteria, etc can survive (thrive!) on the exterior of Mir,

    This article did not claim that fungi were surviving on the exterior of Mir. The fungi in question are everywhere inside Mir, which like most spacecraft, is actually warm (heat dissipation is always a key issue) and wet (partly sweat, mostly humidity from breathing). Essentially, the interior of Mir is not far from that of a steam bath, and you know how well fungi can grow in even a regular bathroom or shower.

    why not on Mars? Are the environments really all that different? ... it opens the possibility that some area of Mars that we haven't explored closely (ie, a lot) may contain evidence of past/present life

    Actually, most scientists already believe that because everywhere we've explored on Earth has life, no matter how extreme the environment, that the prospects for life on Mars remain quite high. This spacecraft-internal fungus doesn't really change that view much.

    Second, what if a probe (or people, someday) sent to Mars isn't properly sterile, and we expose the surface to mold/bacteria from Earth? That would confuse and cast doubt on any findings regarding Mars' biology. Suppose we did find evidence of mold on Mars. How do we know it originated there, and didn't just hitch a ride from Earth? I wonder if they've really thought about that.

    As I've noted, they have definitely thought of that. Sterilization is a required component of any lander mission. Spacecraft on earth are kept in a "clean room" environment and contamination of experiments is an omnipresent concern for the scientists.

    Even so, there would be experiments that could be done to compare the make-up of whatever mold etc. may be found. If two spacecraft sent to different Mars locations turned up exactly the same mold, and that mold were very similar to an Earth mold, the immediate concern would be that both spacecraft were contaminated and cross-checks would need to be done. On the other hand, NASA is already working on the possibility that microbial life has been transported from Earth to Mars, or vice versa, and back again, at numerous times in the past. Certainly the possibility seems much stronger now than it has in the past, given the suggestive meteorite evidence.
  • by Johnny Starrock ( 227040 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @05:45PM (#736976)
    Mir has been taken over, "conquered", if you will by a master race of space fungus. It's difficult to tell if they will consume the cosmonauts or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain, there is no stopping it; the space fungus will soon be here.

    And I, for one, welcome our new fungal overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted website, /. can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground moisture caves.

    (appologies to the Simpsons writers, i just couldn't resist..)

  • It'd tie in better with plans to market MIR to rich socialites as a vacation destination.
  • Now, if only we'd sent off all our telephone sanitizers and middle managers, as Douglas Adams envisioned...
  • An airlock that would allow operation like that is BAD BAD BAD.

    [Scene: MIR]
    Ooops! Boris just opened up the airlock agai --- SCHOOOOOOMMMMPPPPPPPPP.

    [Begin unsettling silence]

  • It takes a really long time for the mutations to cause major advances in complex organisms, yes. Unfortunately, all of our studies on the subject have been done on Earth, not in the cold harsh, unprotected vaccuum of space. The one primary thing that changes when you shift to this environment is that there is no protection from radiation. For a fungus growing on the surface of a space station, the time it takes for that kind of change plundges drastically. The fact that a fungus is much less complex then, say, a human, will contribute to this too. So, really, it becomes a pretty incredible threat to people in space.

    And to think, I wanted a chance to go to MIR. Oh well.
  • John Postgate's The Outer Reaches of Life [] is an excellent read on microbial life in extreme environments.


  • Good idea but as the article says, they produce things like acetic acid as a byproduct
  • CueCat is covered with the stuff!
  • by Ariston ( 232656 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @06:04PM (#736995)
    "The fungi that did the damage, Novikova said, included members of the genera Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Cladesporium - all very common on Earth."

    Sounds to me like the stuff was on the station before it ever got into space. Like FreeMars said, there's nothing in the article that mentions any fungus growing outside the station.
    (still, wouldn't it be a little disappointing if the first "attack" by an extraterrestrial organism was a fungus?) ;-)
  • What did they expect? It's the standard life cycle for all my dishes and containers. They start out brand new, and then after years of faithful service eventually I end up leaving some food product in them for too long and they grow mould so monstrous the only solution is to throw them away. Naturally I think this solution applies to the Mir situation too.
  • by dizee ( 143832 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @06:09PM (#737000) Homepage
    Aerobic bacteria require oxygen to live.
    Anaerobic bacteria thrive in the absence of oxygen.

    The most notable anaerobic process is probably alcoholic fermentation, in which yeast (an anaerobic bacterium) converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. If you've ever been anywhere where they make alcohol, such as the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, TN (I live down the road from it!), and leaned over the vats very far, you can't breathe because of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process. Not to mention it smells terrible.

    Probably the most familiar aerobic fermentation is lactic fermentation, which occurs within muscle tissue (as well as other places, like milk, yuck!). A saccharine (such as glucose) is converted into lactic acid, which builds up in the muscle tissue as oxygen is supplied during excercise. It is this build-up of lactic acid that causes muscles to be sore after exercise.

    So, yes, this form of life can live in a vacuum. If they break down plastics and metals, I wonder what type of chemical reaction takes place, what type of fermentation is going on. It may be possible to use the byproducts of this fermentations to our advantage.


    "I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."
  • Perhaps some of you have read Larry Niven's [] "Ringworld" series about the giant artificial ring-shaped world (if you havn't, I reccomend you do so, although I'm spoiling it a bit for you).

    Recall that the ringworld was in a state of civilizational collapse when it was discovered. The cause? The Puppeteer [] race was so terrified of the race that created the Ringworld that they launched a nasty space-fungus that devoured the materials of the high-tech devices there. Voila; the downfall of a possibly threatening civilization.


  • Everyone knows that radiation can cause rapid changes in organisms under the right circumstances. When a rocket ship on a mission into deep space was struck with heavy cosmic rays, scientist Reed Richards, his fiance Sue Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, and Reed's friend Ben Grimm absorbed massive radiation which mutated them into beings with incredible powers.

    Reed Richards gained the ability to stretch his entire body into bizzare forms. Sue became able to turn invisible at will. Johnny was transformed into a flaming human torch. And Ben was transformed into a hulking, rock-covered beast. They returned to Earth as the Fantastic Four.

    Who knows what may become of this seemingly harmless 'space mold'...

  • because there isn't any such thing as an astronaut janitor.

    What?! There sure is! Haven't you played Space Quest?!

    Roger Wilco...

    -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • by OmegaDan ( 101255 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @06:21PM (#737012) Homepage
    Immagine being able to buy a little plastic bubble of it for your kids "Super whacky space fungus" ...

    on the serious side, I don't think ths is the first time something like this has happened, I seem to recall a strain of yeast had mutated and was able to metabolize the plastic bags it was sold in. Yeast is pretty advanced stuff -- it can skip from aerobic to anerobic resperation (with oxygen / without oxygen) in a few minutes. (this is how beer produces yeast in a beer bottle with no oxygen) ... if yeast can do that, who knows what fungus can do!

  • Nah, if it's a strange fungus we're talking about, here... you probably want StinkyFeet [].
    -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @06:51PM (#737017)
    Rumors of a secret Siberian launch containing only 16oz of Desenex anti-fungal cream confirms earlier rumors of all this getting started with a bad case of Jock Itch. Much speculation has been focused on the Russian personal hygiene regimine and funding problems associated with finding the solution to the infamous "Sweaty space shorts."
  • by Lish ( 95509 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @06:53PM (#737018)
    This pretty much refutes the past assertion among the space community that space is too hostile (radiation, extreme heat & cold) to support microbial/fungal life. If fungi, bacteria, etc can survive (thrive!) on the exterior of Mir, why not on Mars? Are the environments really all that different?

    This has two separate but related implications on the search for microbial life (live, remains, fossils) on Mars. First, it opens the possibility that some area of Mars that we haven't explored closely (ie, a lot) may contain evidence of past/present life. Second, what if a probe (or people, someday) sent to Mars isn't properly sterile, and we expose the surface to mold/bacteria from Earth? That would confuse and cast doubt on any findings regarding Mars' biology. Suppose we did find evidence of mold on Mars. How do we know it originated there, and didn't just hitch a ride from Earth?

    I wonder if they've really thought about that.

  • I thought the latic acid was a result of an anaerobic reaction in the muscles that is used when there isn't enough oxygen. Its not as efficient as the aerobic ATP reactions but can release energy when its really needed.
  • At least, there is nothing in that article to imply that any of the fungus is living in vacuum.

  • Here [] is a short summary of a 3 part series about a publication finding itself under attack by fungi. I haven't been able to find the URL for the series yet.

    Sample quote from the article summary:
    "By the time we get done, we have to walk away from everything we own, the lost profits, the medical and health costs--it will be well over $300,000, possibly $500,000," she said.

    Some experts weren't surprised by Pheatt's findings.They say houses, offices and classrooms around the country have had problems with toxic mold. In Austin, Texas, last month, an elementary school was closed after officials found mold in the walls.

    Outside scientists said that while they have not examined the Job Journal employees, the symptoms they described have been linked to the three strains of mold.

    end quote

    It appears that the 3 strains are the same ones mentioned in the article on Mir.

    This is some serious shit here. As for why the business operators of Mir seem to be minimizing this, interesting question.

    Note that the group in the office that got hammered was generally there during regular business hours, they weren't sealed in an air tank with the fungi and they still had serious consequences, not all of which were discussed in the article summary.

    I'm trying to contact the publisher for more information.

  • by Jamie Zawinski ( 775 ) <> on Monday October 02, 2000 @07:19PM (#737047) Homepage
    ...send... more... paramedics...
  • by Lish ( 95509 ) on Monday October 02, 2000 @07:24PM (#737048)
    Here's a link to the original story:
    Space Fungus: A Menace to Orbital Habitats []
    with pictures of damage. Also somewhat more informative.

You will be successful in your work.