Humans aren't the only living things on the International Space Station. The space station has a home in the aseptic microgravity for the bacterium, which has found a way to integrate itself into every biome on Earth. This poses a hazard to the astronauts that live on the station. A group of researchers funded by the European Space Agency and the Italiano di Tecnologia think they have a solution to the problem.

There are hundreds of different materials on the International Space Station, and each has its own mechanical and chemical properties. There are a lot of species of organisms that live on the space station. Staphylococcus aureus can cause respiratory infections, which are even dangerous to humans.

Some of thebacteria can be harmful to the space station. Microbe colonies can eat plastic, rubber, glass, and even metal if left unaddressed. There were concerns for the station's long-term viability before it was shut down because of the problem with the biofilm.

Astronaut experimenting with bacteria on the ISS.
Astronaut experimenting with bacteria on the ISS.

The credit is from NASA.

One way to solve this problem is to clean. Let's be honest, astronauts have better things to do with their time. They have a team of very brainy scientists who are being paid to develop a system for them never to have to clean again.

The system is supported by the PATINA project, which is funded by the Open Space Innovation Forum. There are other research paths in the project that include superhydrophobic materials, though they have a different use case than the antimicrobial ones developed by the engineers.

Titanium dioxide is a material that when exposed to light will break water into free oxygen radicals that will destroy any living thing on the surface. Titanium dioxide has advantages over silver.

Image of some fungi growing onboard the ISS.
Image of some fungi growing onboard the ISS.

Credit NASA and the European Space Agency.

Silver has been used for a long time for its antimicrobial properties. When a person is exposed to silver frequently, it has undesirable properties, such as eye and skin irritation. It can change the color of a person's skin. It is more difficult to avoid in the enclosed environment of the International Space Station than it is in the open air.

Titanium dioxide has no adverse side effects at this point in time. The researchers developing this coating are trying to age the coating in a number of ways to make sure it isn't harmful. One of the researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology says, "Obviously, we don't want end products more toxic than the microbes themselves."

The team has successfully coated several different types of surfaces, including clean room grade paper and aluminum foil, which is used on the International Space Station. They have done it with layers as small as 50 to 100 nanometers in an attempt to maintain the mechanical properties of the surfaces they are coated on.

Petri dish with bacteria samples collected on the ISS.
Petri dish with bacteria samples collected on the ISS.

Credit NASA and JPL.

As human space exploration progresses, the number of different types of surfaces exposed tobacteria in space will continue to grow. Two other projects supported by the European Space Agency are researching the growth ofbacteria on the International Space Station. It's best to share long-term space habitats with microbes so that they don't harm humans or the craft they rely on.

You can learn more.

The self-cleaning of the spacecraft surfaces is being done by the European Space Agency.

Antibiotic resistantbacteria has been found on the space station's toilet.

There is a possibility thatbacteria could survive in Martian soil.

Extremebacteria on the Space Station are evolving to handle the harsh conditions, not to make astronauts sick.