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Published Online: 11 June 2019

A Lunar Microbial Survival Model for Predicting the Forward Contamination of the Moon

Publication: Astrobiology
Volume 19, Issue Number 6

Abstract

The surface conditions on the Moon are extremely harsh with high doses of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation (26.8 W · m−2 UVC/UVB), wide temperature extremes (−171°C to 140°C), low pressure (10−10 Pa), and high levels of ionizing radiation. External spacecraft surfaces on the Moon are generally >100°C during daylight hours and can reach as high as 140°C at local noon. A Lunar Microbial Survival (LMS) model was developed that estimated (1) the total viable bioburden of all spacecraft landed on the Moon as ∼4.57 × 1010 microbial cells/spores at contact, (2) the inactivation kinetics of Bacillus subtilis spores to vacuum as approaching −2 logs per 2107 days, (3) the inactivation of spores on external surfaces due to concomitant low-pressure and high-temperature conditions as −6 logs per 8 h for local noon conditions, and (4) the ionizing radiation by solar wind particles as approaching −3 logs per lunation on external surfaces only. When the biocidal factors of solar UV, vacuum, high-temperature, and ionizing radiation were combined into an integrated LMS model, a theoretical −2479 log reduction in viable bioburden was predicted for external spacecraft surfaces per lunation at the equator. Results indicate that external surfaces of landed or crashed spacecraft are unlikely to harbor viable spores after only one lunation, that shallow internal surfaces will be sterilized due to the interactive effects of vacuum and thermal cycling from solar irradiation, and that deep internal surfaces would be affected only by vacuum with a degradation rate of −0.02 logs per lunation.

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cover image Astrobiology
Astrobiology
Volume 19Issue Number 6June 2019
Pages: 730 - 756
PubMed: 30810338

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Published online: 11 June 2019
Published in print: June 2019
Published ahead of print: 18 March 2019
Accepted: 7 January 2019
Received: 6 September 2018

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Andrew C. Schuerger [email protected]
Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
John E. Moores
Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science (CRESS), York Univesity, Toronto, ON Canada.
David J. Smith
Space Biosciences Division, NASA, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
Günther Reitz
Department of Radiation Dosimetry, Nuclear Physics Institute of the CAS, Praha, Czech Republic.
Radiation Biology Division, Institute of Aerospace Medicine, German Aerospace Center, Cologne, Germany.

Notes

Address correspondence to: Andrew C. Schuerger, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, 505 Odyssey Way, Merritt Island, FL 32953 [email protected]

Authors' Contributions

All coauthors participated in the writing of the article. A.C.S. conceptually envisioned the LMS model and conducted the empirical experiments described in Figs. 2 and 3 and reviewed the literature to collect data used in Figs. 1 and 4. J.E.M. used the data given in Tables 1 and 3 and Figs. 1–4 to generate the LMS model. In addition, J.E.M. used the LMS model to then generate the data given in Tables 2 (columns 5–7) and 4 (columns 2 and 3), and Figs. 5 and 6. D.J.S. compiled the data given in Table 1 and assisted A.C.S. with the lunar simulation experiments. G.R. developed the data sets used for ionizing radiation parameters given in Table 2.

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There are no competing financial interests for the authors.

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