Are there aliens aboard the International Space Station? Probably not the type of alien you're thinking of, but a Russian cosmonaut who has visited the craft believes that bacteria found living on the outside of the satellite may be alien in origin.
As the Independent reports, astronauts and cosmonauts ("cosmonaut" being what space travelers are called in Russian) aboard the ISS routinely exit the vehicle to inspect the craft for damage, see if repairs are needed, and see if anything is amiss. They use swabs to take samples of the outside of the craft and then return those samples to Earth for examination and experimentation.
Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who has performed several missions on board the ISS, believes that one of those samples contains bacteria that may be alien in origin.
"Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs. So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull."
Shkaplerov says that he doesn't believe that the microscopic life form poses any danger to Earth.
At this point, it bears noting that, so far, Shkaplerov is the only person to have made this claim. It is not known, as of this writing, where the sample that supposedly contains alien life is being stored or experimented on. Further, his claim has not been verified by any outside laboratories or space agencies.
— Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) November 23, 2017
If Shkaplerov is correct, and bacteria of alien origin has indeed taken up residence on the hull of the International Space Station, then it would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science. It would also change everything we think we know about life: as far as scientists know, life -- even microbial life -- can only survive in a certain range of temperatures (and temperatures in space are far outside of that range). Further, in space, there is no protection from dangerous cosmic radiation that is otherwise absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere.
But, spacecraft often pick up hitch-hiking bacteria and other life forms as they travel from the ground, up through the atmosphere, and into space. That's because, for reasons not relevant here, those organisms wind up in the upper atmosphere, and can get picked up by spacecraft shooting through. And in some cases, those organisms appear to have survived the journey into space.
In fact, according to a 2010 Popular Science report, bacteria from Earth were sent up to the outside of the ISS and left on the outside of the craft -- exposed to cosmic radiation and extreme temperatures, without oxygen or water -- for 553 days. Surprisingly, a small number of those bacteria survived. That gives scientists evidence that there may be some forms of life that can survive the harsh realities of space.
However, much more work needs to be done on Shkaplerov's sample before his claim that alien life hitched a ride on the International Space Station can be confirmed.
[Featured Image by Marc Ward/Shutterstock]