Microbial Ecology

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 119–126 | Cite as

Microbial Characterization during the Early Habitation of the International Space Station

  • V. A. CastroEmail author
  • A. N. Thrasher
  • M. Healy
  • C. M. Ott
  • D. L. Pierson


An evaluation of the microbiota from air, water, and surface samples provided a baseline of microbial characterization onboard the International Space Station (ISS) to gain insight into bacterial and fungal contamination during the initial stages of construction and habitation. Using 16S genetic sequencing and rep-PCR, 63 bacterial strains were isolated for identification and fingerprinted for microbial tracking. Of the bacterial strains that were isolated and fingerprinted, 19 displayed similarity to each other. The use of these molecular tools allowed for the identification of bacteria not previously identified using automated biochemical analysis and provided a clear indication of the source of several ISS contaminants. Strains of Bradyrhizobium and Sphingomonas unable to be identified using sequencing were identified by comparison of rep-PCR DNA fingerprints. Distinct DNA fingerprints for several strains of Methylobacterium provided a clear indication of the source of an ISS water supply contaminant. Fungal and bacterial data acquired during monitoring do not suggest there is a current microbial hazard to the spacecraft, nor does any trend indicate a potential health risk. Previous spacecraft environmental analysis indicated that microbial contamination will increase with time and will require continued surveillance.


International Space Station Sphingomonas Space Shuttle Airborne Bacterium Water Port 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank Bacterial BarCodes, Inc., for their contribution in the processing and analysis of rep-PCR bacterial fingerprinting. We thank Jane Krauhs of Wyle Laboratories, Inc., for technical editing, and James R. Lupski, M.D., Ph.D., for his review of this manuscript. We also thank the crew of the ISS for sample collection and processing, the ISS Program Office, and the Microbiology Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. This study was supported by NASA contract NAS9-97005 and NASA grant PWC 111-30-40-97.


  1. 1.
    Atlas, RM 1993.Handbook of Microbiological Media, 2nd ed.CRC PressBoca Raton, FLGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Benson, DA, Boguski, MS, Lipman, DJ, Ostell, J 1997GenBank.Nucleic Acids Res2516CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Boyden DG (1962) The bacterial flora in fleet ballistic missile submarines during prolonged submergence. In: U. S. Naval Medical Research Laboratory. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy DepartmentGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Burge, HA, Pierson, DL, Groves, TO, Strawn, KF, Mishra, SK 2000Dynamics of airborne fungal populations in a large office building.Curr Microbiol401016CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Drancourt, M, Bollet, C, Carlioz, A, Martelin, R, Gayral, JP, Raoult, D 200016S ribosomal DNA sequence analysis of a large collection of environmental and clinical unidentifiable bacterial isolates.J Clin Microbiol3836233630PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ferguson, JK, Taylor, GR, Mieszkuc, BJ 1975Microbiological investigations.Johnston, RSDeitlein, LFBerry, CA eds. Biomedical Results of Apollo.Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.83103Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kawamura, Y, Li, Y, Liu, H, Huang, X, Li, Z, Ezaki, T 2001Bacterial population in Russian space station “Mir.”Microbiol Immunol45819828PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Koenig DW, Bell-Robinson DM, Johnson SM, Mishra SK, Sauer RL, Pierson DL (1995) Microbiological analysis in space. 25th International Conference on Environmental Systems, San Diego, CA: SAE Technical Paper Series 951683Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Koenig, DW, Pierson, DL 1997Microbiology of the space shuttle water system.Wat Sci Technol355964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Levine, HB, Cobb, JM, Cobet, AB 1970The Tektite-I dive.Arch Environ Health20500505PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Morris, JE 1972Microbiology of the submarine environment.Proc R Soc Med65799800PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Mudgett PD, Benoit MJ, Orta DR, Schultz JR (2002) Quality of water supplied by shuttle to ISS. 32nd International Conference on Environmental Systems, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Pierson, DL 2001Microbial contamination of spacecraft.Grav Space Biol Bull1416Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Pierson, DL, Ott, CM, Groves, TO 2002Characterization of microbial activity in the chamber systems and environment.Lane, HWSauer, RLFeeback, DL eds. Isolation: NASA Experiments in Closed-Environment Living.UniveltSan Diego229259Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Samson, RA, Hoekstra, ES, Frisvad, JC, Filtenborg, O 2000Introduction to Food- and Airborne Fungi, 6th ed.Centraalbureau voor SchimmeelculturesThe NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Samson, RA, Pitt, JI 1989Modern Concepts in Penicillium and Aspergillus Identification.Plenum PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Samsonov NM, Bobe LS, Gavrilov LI, Korolev VP, Novikov VM, Farafonov NS, Soloukhin VA, Romanov SJ, Andrechuk PO, Protasov NN, Rjabkin AM, Telegin AA, Sinjak JE, Skuratov VM (2002) Water recovery and oxygen generation by electrolysis aboard the International Space Station. 32nd International Conference on Environmental Systems, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Stenberg B, Eriksson N, Hansson Mild K, Höög J, Sandström M, Sundell J, Wall S (1993) The Office Illness Project in northern Sweden. An interdisciplinary study of the “sick building-syndrome” (SBS). Indoor Air ‘93 Proceedings. Helsinki, FinlandGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Tang, YW, Ellis, NM, Hopkins, MK, Smith, DH, Dodge, DE, Persing, DH 1998Comparison of phenotypic and genotypic techniques for identification of unusual aerobic pathogenic gram-negative bacilli.J Clin Microbiol3636743679PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Tang, YW, Von Graevenitz, A, Waddington, MG, Hopkins, MK, Smith, DH, Li, H, Kolbert, CP, Montgomery, SO, Persing, DH 2000Identification of coryneform bacterial isolates by ribosomal DNA sequence analysis.J Clin Microbiol3816761678PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Taylor, GR, Graves, RC, Brockett, RM, Ferguson, JK, Mieszkuc, BJ 1977Skylab environmental and crew microbiological studies.Johnston, RSDietlein, LF eds. Biomedical Results from Skylab.Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.5363Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Thomas, TL, Hooper, TI, Carmaca, M, Murray, J, Sack, D, Molé, D, Spiro, RT, Horn, WG, Garland, FC 2000A method for monitoring the health of U.S. Navy submarine crewmembers during periods of isolation.Aviat Space Environ Med71699705PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Upsher JF, Fletcher LE, Upsher CM (1994) Microbiological conditions on Oberon submarines. Department of Defence, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Melbourne, Victoria, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Williams DE, Lewis J, Carrasquillo RL, Reysa R, Gentry G (2002) International Space Station environmental control and life support system status: 2001–2002. 32nd International Conference on Environmental Systems, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. A. Castro
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. N. Thrasher
    • 1
  • M. Healy
    • 2
  • C. M. Ott
    • 1
  • D. L. Pierson
    • 3
  1. 1.EASI/Wyle Laboratories, Microbiology LaboratoryJohnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058USA
  2. 2.Bacterial BarCodes, Incorporated, 8080 N. Stadium Drive, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77054USA
  3. 3.Habitability and Environmental Factors OfficeNational Aeronautics and Space Administration, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058USA

Personalised recommendations