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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)

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.

Readers’ comments

Michael J.
Is it possible that these over-engineered microbes capable of withstanding millions of rads of radiation are in fact extraterrestrial to earth themselves, and arrived on earth via a meteor/asteroid/comet? If that is not the case then it is also possible that a random mutation that happened to be beneficial to the microbe could have also equipped them with the ability to survive high doses of radiation.
David Catchpoole
But such 'overdesign' points to a Designer, not evolution by mutations-and-natural-selection over millions of years. As this extract from the article Life at the extremes says:

As creationists have pointed out before, the ability of tardigrades to survive being subjected to such extreme laboratory treatments (radiation, cold temperature, hydrostatic pressure), far more severe than any Earth environment, poses a very clear difficulty for evolutionary theory. As one scientific writer put it, ‘With such an arsenal of adaptations for survival, tardigrades appear to be over-engineered.’

And, not just tardigrades—as this latest surge of exploration and laboratory research reveals yet more extremophile microbes and other organisms able to withstand far harsher conditions than anywhere on Earth, the challenge to evolutionary theory becomes even more intractable. This is because natural selection can only select characteristics necessary for immediate survival. Consequently, evolution cannot be expected to ‘overequip’ creatures for a host of environments they have never faced.

For Christians, though, the ‘over-design’ of these creatures speaks of a Designer (Romans 1:20), and it is not surprising that God also built into the living things of His creation the capacity to move out and ‘fill’ the whole world, just as He had commanded (Genesis 1). And so indeed, we see today that living things inhabit the harshest environments from ocean to mountaintop and from pole to pole—even at the very extremities of the Earth. Just as the Lord (who knew, incidentally, prior to Creation, of the coming effects of the Curse and the later Flood on future environments) intended for them to do.

Timothy C.
Now those bacteria must have been designed *specifically* to thwart such searches. And the discovery is probably just in time for one of their rovers somewhere in the solar system to tell them that ET life has been found. As in "hint, hint.. you've been contaminating your searches all along."

Now I've always thought that it would be difficult to prove that the life they found did NOT come from Earth, since no sterilization system can be perfect. Now it will be impossible for them to prove that the life is truly ET life, as all of their space craft may be contaminated.

Now that NASA knows that ALL of their rovers may have been contaminated, how will they be able to hold a straight face when they try to claim that they have found life on another planet? Their rovers will contaminate the planets wherever they go, nullifying all of their claims.
Alan H.
It is amazing how modern science and the science fiction medium of film and TV will accept hyperintellegent aliens able to travel vast distances seeding worlds with complex lifeforms. However a hyperintellegent spiritual being outside of the universe able to create matter and life ( ie God) is too much even for science and their infatuation with aliens or stretching the crediblity for science fiction. It is probably not the fact God can create matter and all life that is the problem but that He has standards and rules. That is unacceptable and it is that rebellion that led to the fall and the real history of the planet, that is also not acceptable. Aliens are a way of leaving the door open for intelligent life without acknowledging the ultimate intelligence of God.
David Catchpoole
Arch-evolutionist Richard Dawkins did that very thing (in an interview with Ben Stein, recorded for posterity in the DVD Expelled).
Luke A.
How long has NASA been using the methods that the bacteria are resistant to? This could be an example of rapid adaptation. With the short generational times of bacteria that could be a very plausible explanation.
David Catchpoole
Quite so--and for readers that may be wondering, adaptation is not evolution.
Steven S.
Would not the evolutionary answer be that these microbes in fact did evolve some where extreme and contaminated earth by some natural means? Because they are over-evolved they "prove" life has evolved in some non earthly environment.
Not that I believe such design could evolve.
David Catchpoole
As mentioned above, there's the difficulty of lack of mechanism for contamination from afar (as well as the Romans 1:20/design implication).
Giles P.
Unique? Look up. Pull your eyes away from the superstitions scrawlings of a bronze age cult and face the vastness of the universe and the smallness of our planet in comparison.

As for the article - yet another formulaic philippic. I don't know why I would expect anything more from this website or the hollow cravens that populate it.

Here's a thought - do something. Instead of wasting whatever funding you manage to con from the flock that follow you on ridiculous trips in search of living dinosaurs or trying to spread your particular brand of insanity - start some research teams and work on finding some compelling evidence for your insane beliefs. Here's a start - let's say creation is plausible - link your specific deity to it. I don't mean a half-baked revision of history, a meandering attempt to redefine words and find correlations in whatever seems to fit that you happen to chance upon - I mean actual hard evidence - like for example the evidence that exists for evolution.

David Catchpoole
Thanks for the 'challenge'. But it isn't really much of a challenge, which you would discover by familiarizing yourself with more of the 7,000+ articles published on our website to date.

E.g. try typing "why is the universe so big" into our searchbox, "evidence", and "superstition", and you'll see that your current framework of thinking is rather in need of dramatic overhaul. Might I suggest first though that you go for the jugular, i.e. the very 'lifeblood' of the evolutionary paradigm: the supposed billions-of-years age of the universe. You might then be less inclined to trust the claimed so-called "evidence that exists for evolution", and consider the alternative.

Happy reading!

David Catchpoole
Jack C.
If some scientists seriously believe life came here to earth from outer space via some microbe or suchlike, then why do they have a problem with the reverse happening? Are they afraid of "infecting" other civilizations? If so don't they have their priorities all mixed up? Shouldn't they be spending their resources on defending such penetrations from other worlds? Of course the truth of the matter is we are unique but to claim that means the evolutionary theories of life and the Universe have to be scrapped, which they will not do.
Hans G.
One thought from evolutionists is that life on earth came from outer space. Isn't it a good opportunity when we spread life around, pass it on?
Of cause there is no life out there, the creator's statement - Genesis - says it.
On the other hand many people make a living out of it by "go there, don't know where; find that, don't know what".
D. K.
NASA's efforts are a bit like trying to remove sin by attempting to apply the knowledge of good from evil to human relations. The persistent pathogen can only be sterilized or removed with "fervent heat" which has the unfortunate but God predicted side-effect, of death to the host. [Thank God for resurrection, [out of God ordained death] into newness of life and a new heavens and a new earth free from sin in which to enjoy Him with all His rejoicing believers].
I am a Christian Pastor and support your views. However, do you see these 'resistant" bacteria being trumpeted by Evolutionists as proof that such bacteria may have traveled through space on a meteor or such to impact the earth and thus provide the so-called starting point for life on this planet ?
David Catchpoole
This same point was raised by Colin M.--see our response above.
Colin M.
Interesting article but I think extremotolerance might encourage evolutionists in the idea that panspermia is plausible.
David Catchpoole
Actually, extremotolerance presents huge challenges to the evolutionary paradigm--see It shouldn't be there, but it is. Evolution struggles to explain ... Life at the extremes.
And there are enormous problems with the panspermia idea--see Panspermia theory burned to a crisp: bacteria couldn't survive on meteorite.

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