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NASA Discovers Space Bacteria, Names It After Former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam

First Posted: May 24, 2017 04:44 AM EDT

NASA scientists have reportedly named a newly discovered organism as Solibacillus kalamii in honor of the late President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, who was also a renowned aerospace scientist. The organism is a form of bacteria that is only found on the International Space Station (ISS).

"The name of the bacterium is Solibacillus kalamii, the species name is after Dr. Abdul Kalam and genus name is Solibacillus, which is a spore forming bacteria," senior research scientist, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL, Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran said. "I am reasonably sure it has hitchhiked to the space station on board some cargo and then survived the hostile conditions of space," as he is quoted by India Today.

New bacteria are usually named after celebrated scientists and Venkateswaran wanted to name one after Dr. Kalam, who was also a fellow Indian from the same state of Tamil Nadu that the JPL senior research scientist belongs to. Incidentally, the former President of India had his early training at the American space agency in 1963, after which he set up the first rocket-launching facility in Kerala, India.

The Solibacillus kalamii bacteria was detected on the space station’s filters that remained on the orbiting lab for 40 months, Jagran Josh reported. The filter is a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter that is a part of the regular cleaning and housekeeping system on the space station. The discovery of the bacteria was published only this year in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology after analysis of the filter at JPL.

According to Venkateswaran, the flying laboratory that orbits 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) above Earth is home to several types of fungi and bacteria. He also added that the bacteria is not a type of extraterrestrial life or ET, though it is found only on the space station. Among his many responsibilities, Venkateswaran has to monitor the bug levels on the orbiting laboratory and also make sure that all spacecraft that travel to other planets are free of terrestrial bugs.

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