There's been a news article around claiming that cosmonauts have found sea plankton on the outside of the international space station, for example here. Is there any substance to this claim? Have any papers been published about it? Is there any public documentation of the EVA when the sampling was taken and the whole project which must have preceded and followed it?

A Russian official claims that samples collected by cosmonauts show evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station, news agencies are reporting.

  • $\begingroup$ Well we'd have red snow in central Europe every now and then due to the Saharan sand being blown to the higher troposphere and finding its way all the way here even when the local weather didn't seem anything in particular for that time of the year. And desert sand particles are much, much heavier than most sea plankton. So I wouldn't be too surprised if this was mid-flight contamination. Or even simpler still, cargo decontamination wasn't done properly and some residual contaminants were still present. If fungal spores found their way to the ISS onboard ATV-4, then why not sea plankton? ;) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TidalWave Sure, I don't say that the claim is false, or that it would be very surprising. I just have a hard time finding any serious information on the discovery. I would be interested in learning more about it. There must be a whole lot of things going into this before "a Russian official" talks about it to some journalist. Or maybe the whole story is just based on a silly misunderstanding. (And "plankton" seems to be a very broad category of life forms, including jelly fish, I can imagine cosmonauts picking jelly fish off the solar panels of the ISS...) $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ I know, there was a lot of hype about it not too long ago but substantial info was hard to find. The question is good and valid, I didn't wanna dismiss it with my comment. It just seemed appropriate to comment that there are perfectly simple possible explanations for it before the onslaught of quasi-science that some such questions received here in the past. I would suggest retagging from astrobiology to simply biology tho. ;) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ There were similar claims of bacteria found on mir, even on the outside. $\endgroup$
    – Moby Disk
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


Lynn Rothschild, evolutionary biologist and astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center, is skeptical and says that there is very little information about the claim.

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    $\begingroup$ I've been wondering about this ever since I heard about it. Two years later, has this been settled/resolved in any way? Very nice interview also. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 3:49

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