Surface characteristics of spacecraft components affect the aggregation of microorganisms and may lead to different survival rates of bacteria on Mars landers

Astrobiology. 2005 Aug;5(4):545-59. doi: 10.1089/ast.2005.5.545.


Layers of dormant endospores of Bacillus subtilis HA101 were applied to eight different spacecraft materials and exposed to martian conditions of low pressure (8.5 mbar), low temperature (-10 degrees C), and high CO(2) gas composition and irradiated with a Mars-normal ultraviolet (UV-visible- near-infrared spectrum. Bacterial layers were exposed to either 1 min or 1 h of Mars-normal UV irradiation, which simulated clear-sky conditions on equatorial Mars (0.1 tau). When exposed to 1 min of Mars UV irradiation, the numbers of viable endospores of B. subtilis were reduced three to four orders of magnitude for two brands of aluminum (Al), stainless steel, chemfilm-treated Al, clear-anodized Al, and black-anodized Al coupons. In contrast, bacterial survival was reduced only one to two orders of magnitude for endospores on the non-metal materials astroquartz and graphite composite when bacterial endospores were exposed to 1 min of Mars UV irradiation. When bacterial monolayers were exposed to 1 h of Mars UV irradiation, no viable bacteria were recovered from the six metal coupons listed above. In contrast, bacterial survival was reduced only two to three orders of magnitude for spore layers on astroquartz and graphite composite exposed to 1 h of Mars UV irradiation. Scanning electron microscopy images of the bacterial monolayers on all eight spacecraft materials revealed that endospores of B. subtilis formed large aggregates of multilayered spores on astroquartz and graphite composite, but not on the other six spacecraft materials. It is likely that the formation of multilayered aggregates of endospores on astroquartz and graphite composite is responsible for the enhanced survival of bacterial cells on these materials.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / cytology
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / radiation effects
  • Bacterial Adhesion / radiation effects
  • Exobiology*
  • Extraterrestrial Environment
  • Graphite
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Mars*
  • Metals
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Quartz
  • Space Simulation
  • Spacecraft*
  • Spores, Bacterial / radiation effects
  • Surface Properties
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Metals
  • Quartz
  • Graphite