As we continue to invent more powerful telescopes and farther-reaching proves, humankind may have finally made contact with life from outside of our own planet much more close to home. That’s according to Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who will make this third trip to the International Space Station in December. Shkaplerov recently said in an interview that he had personally discovered foreign microbes growing on the side of the ISS.
Shkaplerov told Russian state news agency TASS that while swabbing the ISS hull for testing on a previous trip, bacteria was detected growing on the outside of the ISS which was found not have a terrestrial origin:
It turns out that somehow these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module. That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface. They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger.
While it’s awesome to imagine that these bacteria might be our first extraterrestrial contact, there is the likelihood that the bacteria were still introduced via contamination from earthly sources. Bacteria from Madagascar and plankton from the Barents Sea were found growing on the ISS earlier this year, forcing scientists to suggest raising the upper limits of the known biosphere to 400 km (248 miles). While we imagine space as empty, the space directly around the Earth can be affected by our planet through a number of processes.
The remarks of cosmonaut Shkaplerov adds a new strand the web of strangeness surrounding Russia and the International Space Station. Earlier this year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos hinted at the discovery of foreign biomaterial on the outside of the space station, prompting a flyby from an American mystery satellite. Soon after, Roscosmos sent a mysterious, unidentified module up to the ISS for some sort of undisclosed experiment. Could this be the beginning of a new chapter of human history, or is Russian state media engaging in some good ol’ fashioned disinformation?