Ever since we first set our sights on outer space, we’ve wondered if there’s any sort of life out there. Thus far, space expeditions have largely come up empty, with many of the areas we’ve explored remaining inhospitable to life. If Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov’s claims are to be believed, however, it’s possible that there’s life in outer space after all. In a conversation with Tass, a Russian News Agency, Shkaplerov stated that he had come across extraterrestrial life on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).
The life found was bacteria, so it’s important to keep in mind that there wasn’t a stereotypical alien clinging to our space station, but the implication if this news is true is huge. The cosmonaut stated that the bacteria was first swabbed on the outside of the station during a space walk years ago. Subsequent analysis of this sample has revealed that the bacteria wasn’t present during the space station’s launch — meaning that it likely came from outer space. Shkaplerov has stated that “They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger.”
The cosmonaut created something of a controversy a few years back during a previous trip to the ISS, as he claimed that his team had discovered some sort of sea plankton clinging to the station. NASA was confused, stating that they had never been informed about any sort of life form. Space research is intended to be collaborative for the advancement of human knowledge — gone are the days of the Space Race, and countries with space programs are largely working together. It’s concerning, then, that NASA was left out of the loop. The fact that the U.S. space program wasn’t informed, or otherwise aware of any sort of extraterrestrial life on the space station casts some doubt over Shkaplerov’s claims.
While this information has yet to be confirmed, it’s not out of the question that bacteria could be present in space. While it’s unlikely we’ll discover any sort of life form similar to a more advanced animal, bacteria such as tardigrades can live in extreme conditions such as space.
However, the fact that bacteria is present on the ISS isn’t necessarily a confirmation that it originated somewhere else. A recent study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, actually suggested that bacteria could be launched with space dust from our planet’s surface on a high-speed journey to other worlds. If a tardigrade were to be caught up in one of these flows and escape our atmosphere, it’s definitely possible that it could get stuck to the ISS.
Whether this supposed bacteria somehow came from Earth or actually originated in space is unclear, but if it’s truly a form of extraterrestrial life it would be conclusive proof that we’re not alone. Hopefully Shkaplerov and his peers will be more transparent moving forward so that international collaboration can continue to advance our understanding of the galaxy we live in. If the Russian cosmonaut was more forthcoming about information on extraterrestrial life in the past, it might be easier to believe that this bacteria is truly other-worldly.