While most of us are now more picky about keeping our homes and workplaces clean, cleanliness aboard the International Space Station is imperative. Antibacterial measures are of great importance, as bacteria tend to accumulate in the constantly recycled air inside the ISS. Every Saturday in space is a “cleaning day” where surfaces are wiped and astronauts vacuum and collect rubbish.
But there is a place on board the station where cleaning is a no-no. But don’t worry, it’s all about science!
The MatISS experiment, or the microbial aerosol bonding of innovative surfaces at the International Space Station, tests five sophisticated materials and how well they can prevent pathogens from settling and growing in microgravity. MatISS also gave an idea of how biofilms attach to surfaces under microgravity conditions.
The experiment was sponsored by the French space agency CNES and was conceived in 2016. Three replicates of the experiment were used on the ISS.
The first was MatISS-1, and it had four sample holders for six months at three different locations in the European Columbus laboratory module. This provided some baseline data for the researchers, because when they were returned to Earth, the researchers characterized the deposits on each surface and used control material to establish a reference to the level and type of pollution.
MatISS-2 had four identical sample holders containing three different types of materials installed in one place in Columbus. This study aims to better understand how contamination spreads over time on hydrophobic (water repellent) and control surfaces. The upgraded Matiss-2.5 was created to study how contaminants spread – this time spatially – to hydrophobic surfaces using patterned samples. This experiment lasted a year and recently the samples were returned to Earth and are now being analyzed.
The samples are made from a diverse combination of modern materials, such as self-assembling monolayers, green polymers, ceramic polymers and water-repellent hybrid silica. Smart materials should stop bacteria from sticking and growing over large areas and effectively make them easier to clean and more hygienic. The experiment hopes to find out which materials work best.
ESA says that “understanding the effectiveness and potential use of these materials will be essential for the design of future spacecraft, especially those that carry a father into space.”
Long-term human space missions will certainly have to limit the biopollution of astronauts’ habitats.
Read more about the MatISS experiment here.