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Creation 35(2):44–46, April 2013

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NASA shock: ET from Earth

Life on other planets would be Ex-Terrestrial, not Extra-Terrestrial


The American space agency NASA adeptly draws attention to its space exploration program by linking it to the quest to find alien life.1 Its periodic announcements about potential extra-terrestrial life certainly make a big media splash.2 (Though perhaps many in the public would be dismayed to realize that NASA isn’t generally talking about discovering the sort of sentient ET life portrayed by Hollywood, but rather microbes.)3,4

However, recent research findings have put a dampener on NASA’s quest to discover ET. In this case, it was not what was found (or not found) on Mars or Europa (a moon of Jupiter) or Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) that dealt a blow to NASA’s alien life project. Rather, it was what was found here on Earth—in NASA’s own spacecraft assembly and launch facilities, to be precise.

NASA’s ‘clean rooms’ not so clean

NASA recognizes the need for sterile places in which to assemble their ET-seeking spacecraft:

“Clean room environments are of … particular importance to the assembly of spacecraft hardware. The search for life on other planets relies heavily on the authenticity of cells and/or biomarkers detected in extraterrestrial samples. Contamination of these samples with organic matter originating on Earth (forward contamination) would inherently confound the interpretation of any such biosignatures discovered. … The overall cleanliness of hardware fabricated for missions to Mars, Europa or Enceladus is of particular concern, as these bodies present the greatest likelihood of sustaining earthly life and affording it the ability to (i) colonize and proliferate and/or (ii) complicate subsequent searches for extraterrestrial life forms.”5

Unfortunately for NASA, despite their best efforts to make their ‘clean rooms’ sterile, several research surveys over the past few years have detected bacteria there.5,6,7 Not just in one of their labs, but across four of NASA’s clean rooms in distinct geographical locations.8

The bacteria were able to withstand NASA’s strict cleaning protocol—and more. The various types of bacteria found were described as extremotolerant, i.e. able to survive extreme conditions. There were bacteria resistant to UVC radiation and hydrogen peroxide exposure. There were thermophiles (bacteria resistant to heat shock and high temperature extremes, e.g. Geobacillus), obligate anaerobes (bacteria that must live in oxygenless environments, e.g. Paenibacillus), cryophiles (bacteria that thrive in cold temperatures, e.g. Pseudomonas), and halotolerant, alkaliphilic species (bacteria resistant to hypersalinity and pH>11, e.g. Oceanobacillus and Exiguobacterium). There were spore-formers and mesophilic heterotrophs as well as non-spore-forming microbes (alpha-and beta-proteobacteria and actinobacteria).

Complicated names, maybe, but a simple, sobering message for NASA: lots of bacteria were found. And there was another problem, too.

Species unknown-to-science discovered

Many of the bacteria found in NASA’s clean rooms were species that “did not belong to any previously described bacterial species and warrant description as novel species.”5,9,10


This raises colossal issues for NASA’s quest for extra-terrestrial life. One summarizing report put it this way, as it highlighted the finding of “a broad diversity in the types of bacteria able to grow in the most hostile environments including almost 100 types of bacteria, about 45 percent of which were previously unknown to science. The findings were something of a shock for NASA, an agency now forced to wonder exactly how many unknown pathogens have been taken to the moon and Mars.11 (Emphasis added.)

Imagine the front-page headlines if these ‘unknown species’ had not first been successfully detected in NASA’s clean rooms, but instead in Martian samples and other extraterrestrial sites probed by NASA. ‘New bacteria found on Mars’, ‘Parallel evolution on Mars and Earth’, and other evolutionary media hoopla would be likely, if the past is anything to go by.12 But now, having found that their clean rooms are anything but clean, hopefully NASA scientists will be much more circumspect in their pronouncements if they find ‘biomarkers’ in extraterrestrial samples. Because if they find life on other planets and/or their moons, NASA won’t be able to rule out the possibility of having simply ‘found’ what they took there themselves from Earth—even if on a previous occasion.13

Not ET, but Extremely Tolerant, and Evolution-Thwarting

If NASA’s researchers and affiliated scientists could take off their evolution-paradigm ‘glasses’, they would surely see, in their discoveries, evidence for the Creator God of the Bible. The extremotolerant bacteria found in spacecraft hardware assembly facilities thwart evolution by virtue of their having been over-designed, or as design engineers would say, over-engineered. Some of the ‘clean rooms’ bacteria, e.g. Bacillus pumilis, were resistant to multiple extreme conditions, able to survive even the maximum levels of increased cleaning that NASA frantically submitted their clean rooms to during assembly of the Phoenix spacecraft.6

Arguably, such conditions do not occur anywhere else on Earth. As the aforementioned report put it, “One would think that the one place on Earth where bacteria do not exist is in the NASA ‘clean rooms’”. (Emphasis added.)

According to the theory of evolution, an organism will develop only the attributes it needs to survive. So where did NASA’s extremotolerant bacteria ‘evolve’ their phenomenal capacity to withstand the worst that man, with all his modern know-how and ingenuity, can throw at these maverick microbes?

The problem for evolutionists is even worse when one considers that the likes of Deinococcus radiodurans can survive 12 million rads of gamma radiation.14 (By way of contrast, a thousand rads is enough to kill a person.) This level of radiation occurs nowhere in its natural environment. Evolution cannot be expected to ‘over-equip’ bacteria for a multiplicity of extremes they have never faced.

Sadly, the ‘shock’ of finding these ‘clean room’ extremotolerant bacteria hasn’t stopped NASA from employing its alien life program and media strategy.1 This strategy has helped to dupe many into believing in the existence of ET.15 But the evidence fits instead with what the Bible says, that it was the earth that God formed to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). It’s on Earth that one can, it seems, find life everywhere—even in spacecraft-assembly ‘clean rooms’. So that man is, indeed, “without excuse”. (Romans 1:20)

Posted on homepage: 18 February 2013

References and notes

  1. A typical recent example: Lovett, R., Enceladus named sweetest spot for alien life, www.nature.com, 31 May 2011. Return to text.
  2. E.g.: Brown, D. and Weselby, C., NASA sets news conference on astrobiology discovery, www.nasa.gov, 29 November 2010; cf. Sarfati, J., Conclusive evidence for life from Mars? Remember last time! creation.com/mars, 15 May 2002. Return to text.
  3. Burton, K., Astrobiologists zero in on search to clues for life, www.nasa.gov, 4 October 2000. Return to text.
  4. About astrobiology, astrobiology.nasa.gov, 22 January 2008. Return to text.
  5. La Duc, M. and five others, Isolation and characterization of bacteria capable of tolerating the extreme conditions of clean room environments, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 73(8):2600–2611, 2007. Return to text.
  6. Ghosh, S. and three others, Recurrent isolation of extremotolerant bacteria from the clean room where Phoenix spacecraft components were assembled, Astrobiology 10(3):325–335, 2010. Return to text.
  7. And not just NASA’s labs, but European-spacecraft-associated clean rooms and the Herschel Space Observatory located therein, too. Stieglmeier, M. and three others, Cultivation of anaerobic and facultatively anaerobic bacteria from spacecraft-associated clean rooms, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 75(11):3484–3491, 2009. Return to text.
  8. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory Spacecraft Assembly Facility, the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Multiple Testing Facility, the Johnson Space Center Genesis Curation Laboratory, and the Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Return to text.
  9. ‘Novel species’ as defined by the authors of ref. 5: “It is generally accepted that if the 16SrRNA gene sequence of an unknown strain is less than 97.5% similar to that of the type strain of its nearest evolutionary neighbor, then the unknown strain represents a novel species.” Return to text.
  10. In the European spacecraft labs, too, novel species have been found—e.g. by Stieglmeier et al. (refer footnote 7). Return to text.
  11. The Marshall Protocol Knowledge Base—Autoimmunity Research Foundation, Microbes in the Human Body, mpkb.org/home/pathogenesis/microbiota, 9 January 2012. Return to text.
  12. E.g., Noble, I., ‘Conclusive evidence’ for Martian life, news.bbc.co.uk, 26 February 2001. Also see Cosner, L. and Bates, G., Martian fossils? Dissecting the media hype, creation.com/martian-fossils, 25 November 2010. Return to text.
  13. And even if not transported by NASA (or other) spacecraft, any microbes found in future on other planets may nevertheless have come from Earth in any case by other means, e.g. comet impact. Non-Christian physicist Paul Davies has himself pointed this out—see: Planets can swap rocks, Creation 18(3):7, 1996; creation.com/focus-183#rocks. Also see creation.com/lifefromspace. Return to text.
  14. Catchpoole, D., Life at the extremes, Creation 24(1):40–44, 2001; creation.com/extreme. Return to text.
  15. Bates, G. and Cosner, L., UFOlogy: the world’s fastest-growing scientific religion?, creation.com/ufology, 12 May 2011. Return to text.