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LIFE Project

Can life naturally transfer from planet to planet?  The Planetary Society is trying to find out!

The Planetary Society developed a two-phase LIFE – Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment – to investigate the transpermia hypothesis, the idea that a living organism might survive a journey through space to Earth inside a meteorite.

The project is designed to test of one aspect of the "transpermia" hypothesis –- the possibility that life can travel from planet to planet inside rocks blasted off one planetary surface by impact, to land on another planetary surface. For example, if a rock on Earth contained life and were blasted off Earth, could it survive until it reached Mars? Or, if life existed on Mars, could it have been transported to Earth? The Planetary Society experiment will test the ability of life to survive the interplanetary voyage by flying organisms for several years through interplanetary space in a simulated meteoroid.

Phase One: Shuttle LIFE

Over 14 days, Shuttle LIFE tested the effects of low-Earth orbit spaceflight on five diverse species of microorganisms packed in tiny, heat-sealed, Delrin plastic sample tubes. Once the microbes have been tested -- back here on Earth -- they were planned to  provide a baseline comparison and a “dress rehearsal” for our upcoming Phobos LIFE experiment that was set to go to Mars's moon Phobos and back.

The eight-legged water bears made the trip aboard Shuttle LIFE with 4 other bacterium  packed into six sample tubes, which were contained in two wells inside a shuttle experiment payload.

We just had the chance to test the survivability of our hardy organisms during space travel by flying LIFE on Space Shuttle flight STS-134, which returned on June 1, 2011. The very last flight of Shuttle Endeavour!

Success…Our micro-passengers are back on Earth now awaiting the results of our testing!

Phobos LIFE

In an ambitious initiative, the Society attempted to send a collection of living organisms on a three-year trip to the Martian moon Phobos and back to Earth. The experiment -- called LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) – was planned to help scientists better understand the nature of life, its robustness, and its ability -- or not -- to move between planets.

In January 2012, the LIFE biomodule was launched aboard Russia’s Phobos Sample Return mission.  Unfortunately, Phobos-Grunt, carrying our Phobos LIFE biomodule, fell into the Pacific Ocean 17:45 UT today.

We applaud our members, supporters,  and the scientists and engineers involved with this mission. Rest assured that, with your continued support, The Planetary Society will press forward and seek answers to those deep questions: Where did we come from, and are we alone?

The Phobos LIFE Plan

The Russian space agency planned to launch the Phobos Sample Return mission nicknamed "Phobos-Grunt" to the Martian moon Phobos. The spacecraft would land on Phobos, collect dirt and rocks from its surface, and then head back home. As it swooped back by Earth, the spacecraft would release a capsule containing all the samples gathered on Phobos, to land on Earth.

Attached to the capsule for the entire 34 months of the journey would be a small, flat cylinder containing a collection of microbes carefully selected and sealed before launch. In its flight, the cylinder would be, in effect, a simulated space rock, subject to the same extreme conditions as a Martian meteoroid traveling to Earth. It is The Planetary Society's LIFE experiment.

Carefully packed and sealed with multiple seals, the LIFE samples would spend a full 34 months in space, before returning to Earth. Here it would be opened and its contents examined by waiting scientists.

Would some of the microbes survive the brutal space environment for this long? We will have to wait for the next sample return mission and see.

Project Updates

NASA selects Planetary Society LIFE Proposal

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/06/19 06:10 CDT | 5 comments

NASA has selected a Planetary Society proposal to study accommodation of the Society’s LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) biomodule on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

Read More »

Intro Astronomy 2014. Class 13: Galaxies, the Universe, Life

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/05/08 01:17 CDT

Discover the Universe including the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, galaxies, life and more in this video of class 13 of Bruce Betts' Introduction to Planetary Science and Astronomy class.

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In Memoriam: David S. McKay

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2013/02/21 06:11 CST | 1 comment

NASA planetary scientist David S. McKay has passed away. He had an enormous impact on planetary studies over the course of his career. He also was a co-investigator on The Planetary Society LIFE experiments.

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Reflections on Phobos LIFE

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2012/01/13 10:35 CST

We explore space for the noblest goals of science and exploration, and we often persevere in spite of challenges. But space exploration is fraught with bad things happening, or, to use the technical term, ouchies. The Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE biomodule will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in the next few days with the rest of the Phobos-Grunt mission.

Read More »

Phobos-Grunt: all but over, a letter from IKI

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/09 07:14 CST

A letter sent by Lev Zelenyi, director of the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) to participants in the Phobos-Soil project about the mission's failure.

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ESA is ending ground station support for Phobos-Grunt

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/02 12:04 CST

After modifying two antennas and attempting to send commands to Phobos-Grunt for weeks without success, ESA has made the decision to stop tracking support.

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Brief contact made with Phobos-Grunt after two weeks of silence

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/11/23 11:29 CST

On Tuesday, November 22 at 20:25 UTC, a European Space Agency ground station in Perth, Australia, successfully made brief radio contact with Phobos-Grunt.

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Phobos-Grunt status, launch plus six days

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/11/14 06:37 CST

I said I wasn't going to post again unless the spacecraft talked to us, but I changed my mind because finally there were official comments today about the status of the mission from Roskosmos head Vladimir Popovkin.

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Phobos-Grunt summary, three days after launch

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/11/11 02:51 CST

I can summarize the news about the last day's efforts to save Phobos-Grunt in three words: there is none. At least nothing official.

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Phobos-Grunt status, two days after launch

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/11/10 12:07 CST

When I last left Phobos-Grunt, Roscosmos had not yet commented on the results of a planned attempt to communicate with the wayward spacecraft at 19:00 UT on November 9.

Read More »

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