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ISS: Protecting the Solar System from Earth's Lifeforms

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01156f4b5b70970b-500wi International Space Station astronauts tested a technology to defend the planet, but don't get your hopes up about the ISS transforming into an incredible Voltronian space robot: the alien invaders we're defending against are us.

Astronauts Steve Swanson and Richard Arnold were scanned for unwanted life-forms before and after a spacewalk, using a brand new Lab-On-a-Chip Applications Development (LOCAD) Q-tip.  Your q-tips might only excavate unspeakable emissions from your orifices, but the LOCAD system scans for lifesigns - it's basically the closest thing we have to an organic-detecting tricorder.  A ten second sample collection, followed by fifteen minutes of processing on the iPod-sized chip, detects chemicals connected with unwanted organisms - either alien or ours.  The chip even changes color to display results, presumably "Green for fine" and "Red for oh bugger aliens."

The device is due to Article 9 of the Outer Space Treaty, which really exists, and basically says "Thou shalt not screw up entire alien worlds by sneezing on them."  The idea is to avoid contaminating new ecosystems with runaway organisms, and Australia just e-mailed to say "Pity you didn't think of that about two centuries ago."

The system has already produced results, showing signs that fungi may have stowed away aboard fabric sections outside the ISS - ironically, on the handrail sections designed to make it easier for other life-forms (aka "humans") to get around.  Such nearspace tests could be vital in avoiding interplanetary plagues unleashed by those claiming to "come in peace."

Posted by Luke McKinney.



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