Questions for “If bacteria stick together, they can survive for years in space”

International Space Station

Clumps of bacteria survived for three years on the outer surface of the International Space Station, pictured here. They were shielded from the hazards of space by only themselves. New research suggests such clumps might be able to survive a trip between Earth and Mars.

NASA, Roscosmos

To accompany “If bacteria stick together, they can survive for years in space


Before Reading:

1.  When humans go to space, they wear special pressurized suits. They’re called space suits. What do you think would happen to a person if they went outside a spacecraft, such as the International Space Station, without such a suit?

2.  What do you think would happen to other life from Earth if it got into space without a protective “suit?”

During Reading:

1.  Why is outer space unfriendly to life?

2.  What are Deinococcus bacteria and where were they tested in the study described in this story?

3.  What famous astronaut put them there?

4.  How thick did the pellets need to be to support life throughout the test period?

5.  What share of the bacteria survived? What happened to the others?

6.  How long does Akihiko Yamagishi think 1,000-micrometer pellets might survive in space?

After Reading:

1.  What do you find most disturbing: the idea that life from Earth might escape and invade another world or that life from out-of-this-world might arrive and make its home on Earth? Explain your answer.

2.  Read about Cassie Conley, planetary protection officer at NASA’s headquarters in Washington D.C. Her team’s goal is to keep to fewer than 30 the number of viable organisms on the entire outside surfaces of U.S. spacecraft. Does that seem strict enough, based on the new data? Explain why.