Cosmonaut claims alien bacteria is on ISS, but is it fake news?

29 Nov 2017

The Soyuz TMA-15M vehicle docked with the International Space Station. Image: NASA

In a bold claim, a cosmonaut aboard the ISS has said that bacteria found on the satellite’s exterior is extraterrestrial.

The International Space Station (ISS) is home to a rotating number of astronauts and cosmonauts, but is it also home to alien life?

That was the claim of cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov who, speaking with Russian media, claimed that living bacteria was found on the outside of the Russian section of the ISS, and it is not from Earth.

During spacewalks, Shkaplerov said he took swabs from the station’s surface, especially from around the areas where fuel waste is discharged from its engines or other areas considered more ‘obscure’.

Then, the samples were returned to Earth and Shkaplerov claimed that an astounding discovery was made.

‘They pose no danger’

“It turns out that somehow, these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module,” Shkaplerov said.

“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.”

However, with little information on whether the findings have been vetted in a peer-reviewed journal or the exact details of how the bacteria was gathered, major question marks remain over its validity.

When asked follow-up questions, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, did not respond.

Not the first claim

Despite the great measures taken to ensure that spacecraft are free from any unwanted biological passengers on their journey into space, it is not uncommon for a few to hitch a ride.

For example, the tardigrade – otherwise known as the water bear – is a microscopic creature that has shown extreme resilience to everything from intense heat to the vacuum of space.

In fact, research has found that they could survive for up to 30 years, frozen, without food or water, and could even be brought back to functioning life.

This is not the first time there have been claims originating from Russia of alien life found on the ISS – in 2014, scientists said that ‘sea plankton’ were discovered on the outside of the satellite.

Following the unsubstantiated claim, NASA scientists said that the bacteria was likely the result of contamination at launch.

It remains to be seen whether Shkaplerov and Russian scientists can back up this claim with peer-reviewed evidence.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic