The International Space Station has some new astronauts on board, but they’re only viewable under a microscope.
Researchers at the European Space Agency (ESA) have set up colonies of the bacteria and yeast used to make kombucha, a fermented tea drink, to see how they fare in space. They’re interested in these microorganisms in particular because of the way they huddle together and form a protective envelope, known as a biofilm.
Space.com reported that kombucha biofilms have held up well in Earth-based tests, even in harsh conditions like high temperatures and radiation. Now they’ll be hanging out on the exterior of the ISS, in full view of the sun’s unfiltered rays and the unrelenting chill of space.
If the experiment goes well and the biofilm survives, it could serve as a road sign on the search for extraterrestrial life. Biofilms are much easier to spot than individual microorganisms. The kombucha sample is also just one of many different types of biofilms the ESA is monitoring in space.
The experiment will be completed in 2016. Fingers crossed that kombucha survives!