Tesla’s space-cruising roadster is carrying a huge load of earth’s germs – marketwatch wd gaster battle


Later, more controlled experiments on board NASA’s Earth-orbiting Long Duration Exposure facility showed that 30%-80% of a common soil bacterium remained viable after six years in open space, from its launch in 1984 to its retrieval in 1990. All this shows that Earth life doesn’t just tolerate vacuum; it almost seems adapted to survive it.

Scientists have even embraced the power of vacuum to preserve microbes with a process called lyophilization. This method, which preserves microorganisms by first freezing and then exposing them to vacuum to gently remove the destabilizing water molecules, has been used for over 100 years. Lyophilization technology is widely applied for long-term preservation of bacteria, live virus vaccines and protein drugs. Over 40% of biopharmaceuticals approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2007 are lyophilized to preserve sensitive macromolecules.

It is well known that DNA degrades over time, and scientists believe that microbes only lose their viability after thousands of years, if not hundreds of thousands of years. However, spore-forming bacteria have evolved ways of stabilizing their DNA, and one study from 1995 reports the revival of this kind of bacteria after 25 million to 40 million years of dormancy. In another case, a group of salt-tolerant bacterial spores were revived from inside a 250-million-year-old salt crystal from the Permian-Salado Formation, a basin in Texas and southern New Mexico.

We don’t fully understand the limits of Earth life in tolerating long space journeys, but many experts now believe that large meteorite impacts on Mars could have transported living microbes from Mars to Earth or vice versa over the 4.5-billion-year history of the solar system. Even today, approximately 1 ton of Martian surface material falls into our atmosphere every year. Earth life might even have originated on Mars and come to Earth via Martian meteorites — but that’s another story.

What are the implications of this inadvertent space ark? Has SpaceX launched a backup copy of Earth life, just in case we Earthlings really mess things up? Or are we in danger of infecting a pristine Mars with a bad case our own infection, potentially a biological bomb?

But other, more interesting, fates are possible because its orbit is sensitive to tiny, unknown forces. It stands a fair chance (an estimated 15%) of eventually burning up in the sun. It has a similar chance of swinging wide after a close pass by the Earth and heading out to Jupiter. Once there, Jupiter’s huge mass may fling it entirely out of the solar system. This could take tens of millions of years, but there is about a 1 in 5 chance the red Tesla and its sleeping micro-nauts will someday fly forth toward neighboring stars in our galaxy, taking a sample of Earth life out to the stars.

Fantastic as this might seem, Francis Crick, famed co-discoverer of the double helix, has speculated that life on Earth began this way: by either the directed or perhaps inadvertent contamination of our early, pristine planet from another technological civilization.

Our young technological civilization here on Earth is just beginning to leap beyond our birthplace and venture into the wider universe. We don’t yet know whether other civilizations are out there or how they might react to careless contamination of the stars around us, but our actions may have unintended consequences.