With more ambitious space plans on the horizon, such as getting humans to Mars, the possibility of an astronaut dying in space increases.One leading biologist has claimed if an astronaut were to die in space, their body should be left there in the hope that it makes its way to a nearby planet and ultimately sparks new life.
Gary King, a microbial biologist at Louisiana State University and an expert in microbes which can survive in the harshest environments, says certain particles on the body could survive on planets with difficult environments.
He added this would lead to life elsewhere in the universe.
He told Astrobiology Magazine: “If the question is, ‘are there a set of possible circumstances by which a corpse could deliver microbes to a planet that could survive the space environment?' well, then I would say the answer is yes.
“We've pulled microbes out of permafrost, and there we're talking about organisms surviving around one million years in suspended animation.
“Especially if the trip is somewhere close, like to Mars, bacterial spores in the human body will survive for sure.
“It's also possible that other, non-sporing bacteria could survive as well. I'm thinking about microbes like Deinococcus radiodurans, which we know can survive low levels of water and high amounts of ionizing radiation.”
However, Mr King says there the transportation of the body and microbes depends on the protection of the corpse, how long the dead body is stored and how length of time it has travelled.
Additionally, the space suit would need to be extra strong as to ensure the astronaut does not completely burn up in the atmosphere of a given planet.
However, even if all of the microbes fail to survive the journey, just the fact a body could land on an alien planet could lead to a completely new form of life.
Jack Szostack, a Nobel winning geneticist at Harvard Medical School, said: “The molecules released from the decaying astronaut could potentially provide a boost to a new origin [of life] if the environmental conditions were almost perfect for life to begin, but just a few ingredients were missing or present in too low concentrations.”
By Sean Martin