The presence of microbes on the International Space Station (ISS) has been monitored regularly by NASA. In fact, the American space agency has been collecting and analyzing samples from two different locations in each module every few months.
According to The Space Reporter, the cargo that arrives at the International Space Station and the vehicles that carry the cargo are subject to cleaning and monitoring for microorganisms before the launch. Before traveling to the ISS, astronauts are also quarantined.
Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi are always present wherever humans are. Studies of microbes found on the ISS were found to be the same ones found in human environments on Earth, with few of them making people sick.
Russian space agency Roscosmos also monitors the microbes on the ISS modules, says Mark Ott, a microbiologist at the Johnson Space Center. Samples collected are separated whether they are bacteria or fungi. When returned to Earth, scientists identify the microorganisms found on them. On several occasions, they were able to identify microbes that were suspected to pose health hazards but were later on found to be harmless.
Ott said that scientists should be investigating different ways of monitoring spacecraft for organisms, but that they should be careful in interpreting results. "NASA has and continues to closely monitor the International Space Station to ensure it provides a safe and healthy environment for our astronauts," he shared.
NASA has been conducting studies regarding the impact of long-term space travel, collecting samples from astronauts and from different locations in the ISS to determine the possible effects of space travel in a person's immune system, as well as on the effects of the individuals' microbiomes.
To do this, the agency partnered with the Sloan Foundation, where they studied the microbial environment of the space station as a means of learning more about the colonization, evolution and adaptation of these microorganisms in space. The partnership is supposed to support research on the microbiome of the environment.