Earth’s atmosphere is designed for the survival of millions of organisms. Once most of these leave the planet’s protective covering, however, they would perish within minutes, if not seconds. Scientists are always looking for ways that will allow us to survive in the harsh environment of space, to facilitate our universal expansion. As they have discovered many times in the past, sometimes the smallest things provide the biggest answers.
One of the simplest plants in our atmosphere is algae, which has proven its resilience repeatedly due to the extreme earthly environments in which they can exist. As a part of the Biology and Mars Experiment (Biomex), scientists decided to put the plant’s durability to the test. They released algae into the universe next to the International Space Station, located outside of the earth’s perimeter, for a total of 16 months.
Biomex is a project aimed at figuring out the possibility of survival on the surface of one of Earth’s closest neighbours, Mars. Here the temperature is extremely low and there is almost no protective covering from the sun’s harmful UV rays. The conditions that the algae had faced in space would have been impossible to replicate on Earth, and would not have provided the most accurate results.
Even though the plants were exposed to extreme temperature changes, and both cosmic and UV radiation, the algae were retrieved alive and many of the strands even thriving. Further tests of the species will be crucial to future space travel, as they will demonstrate some of the conditions that may be faced by astronauts and show possible ways to overcome them. Algae might also be used as a source of food for these explorers, as it can be eaten when grown in large quantities. The plant can be transported to Mars, and many scientists believe it might be the key to breathable air on the planet, as algae survives by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, which is essentially to human and animal life.
The plants survival also supports the theory that organisms can travel around the universe on comets, asteroids and other moving particles. When one of these crashes into a planet that has life on it, organisms become trapped in it and are carried to the particle’s next destination. The theory that life on Earth developed in this way has been proposed and, even though it doesn’t provide conclusive evidence, the algae’s survival shows that this is possible.