Limits of Life and the Habitability of Mars: The ESA Space Experiment BIOMEX on the ISS

Jean-Pierre de Vera*, Mashal Alawi, Theresa Backhaus, Mickael Baque, Daniela Billi, Ute Boettger, Thomas Berger, Maria Bohmeier, Charles Cockell, Rene Demets, Rosa de la Torre Noetzel, Howell Edwards, Andreas Elsaesser, Claudia Fagliarone, Annelie Fiedler, Bernard Foing, Frederic Foucher, Joerg Fritz, Franziska Hanke, Thomas HerzogGerda Horneck, Heinz-Wilhelm Huebers, Bjoern Huwe, Jasmin Joshi, Natalia Kozyrovska, Martha Kruchten, Peter Lasch, Natuschka Lee, Stefan Leuko, Thomas Leya, Andreas Lorek, Jesus Martinez-Frias, Joachim Meessen, Sophie Moritz, Ralf Moeller, Karen Olsson-Francis, Silvano Onofri, Sieglinde Ott, Claudia Pacelli, Olga Podolich, Elke Rabbow, Guenther Reitz, Petra Rettberg, Oleg Reva, Lynn Rothschild, Leo Garcia Sancho, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Laura Selbmann, Paloma Serrano, Ulrich Szewzyk, Cyprien Verseux, Jennifer Wadsworth, Dirk Wagner, Frances Westall, David Wolter, Laura Zucconi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BIOMEX (BIOlogy and Mars EXperiment) is an ESA/Roscosmos space exposure experiment housed within the exposure facility EXPOSE-R2 outside the Zvezda module on the International Space Station (ISS). The design of the multiuser facility supports-among others-the BIOMEX investigations into the stability and level of degradation of space-exposed biosignatures such as pigments, secondary metabolites, and cell surfaces in contact with a terrestrial and Mars analog mineral environment. In parallel, analysis on the viability of the investigated organisms has provided relevant data for evaluation of the habitability of Mars, for the limits of life, and for the likelihood of an interplanetary transfer of life (theory of lithopanspermia). In this project, lichens, archaea, bacteria, cyanobacteria, snow/permafrost algae, meristematic black fungi, and bryophytes from alpine and polar habitats were embedded, grown, and cultured on a mixture of martian and lunar regolith analogs or other terrestrial minerals. The organisms and regolith analogs and terrestrial mineral mixtures were then exposed to space and to simulated Mars-like conditions by way of the EXPOSE-R2 facility. In this special issue, we present the first set of data obtained in reference to our investigation into the habitability of Mars and limits of life. This project was initiated and implemented by the BIOMEX group, an international and interdisciplinary consortium of 30 institutes in 12 countries on 3 continents. Preflight tests for sample selection, results from ground-based simulation experiments, and the space experiments themselves are presented and include a complete overview of the scientific processes required for this space experiment and postflight analysis. The presented BIOMEX concept could be scaled up to future exposure experiments on the Moon and will serve as a pretest in low Earth orbit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-157
Number of pages13
JournalAstrobiology
Volume19
Issue number2
Early online date11 Feb 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Feb 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • EXPOSE-R2
  • BIOMEX
  • Habitability
  • Limits of life
  • Extremophiles
  • Mars
  • SIMULATED MARTIAN CONDITIONS
  • BACILLUS-SUBTILIS SPORES
  • LOW-EARTH-ORBIT
  • SIBERIAN PERMAFROST
  • METHANOGENIC ARCHAEA
  • RADIATION-RESISTANCE
  • UV-RADIATION
  • SURVIVAL
  • METHANE
  • LICHEN

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