Maybe, maybe not.
There have been seeming credible reports on the Internet that sea plankton has been found on the windows of the International Space Station, plankton that wasn't there at takeoff.
So say some Russians. But not the official ones:
“Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev told Russia’s state-ownedITAR-TASS news agency.
The Russian report also seems to infer that the plankton finding and other previous surveys indicate such organisms can survive and even grow outside the space station, despite having to contend with being blasted by radiation from the sun and lacking the basic life support system found in Earth.
“Results of the scope of scientific experiments which had been conducted for a quite long time were summed up in the previous year, confirming that some organisms can live on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) for years amid factors of a space flight, such as zero gravity, temperature conditions and hard cosmic radiation. Several surveys proved that these organisms can even develop.”
But all this seems to be news to NASA.
“As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com. “What they’re actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That’s what they were taking samples for. I don’t know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from.”
NASA scientists report that it’s possible the reported sea plankton could be a contaminant that hitched a ride from Earth when the space station modules were launched. Previous research has also found that certain tiny species — known as extremophiles — can survive in space and other harsh environments. Just today, new research is being published in the journal Nature that documents the discovery of microbes living beneath a half mile of Antarctic ice without any access to sun or wind.
If the cosmonauts truly did discover sea plankton hanging out in space, it could have interesting new implications for how we view life’s compatibility with the rugged environment that is space; or it might just mean that plankton is a lot tougher than previously expected.
So… maybe yes maybe no, but pretty amazing if yes.