Hygiene is essential on board the International Space Station (ISS). And yet, a room remains dirty there permanently. This is neither a sign of laxity nor a coincidence. It is actually an experiment on behalf of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES).
An area of the ISS is not cleaned
The International Space Station has been constantly occupied for about two decades. And since the beginning, hygiene has been a very important point and is the subject of unfailing rigor. Indeed, any uncontrolled bacteriological development can give rise to a disaster. This can for example affect the quality of the recirculated air. As shown in a video from the European Space Agency (ESA) at the end of the article, the astronauts of the ISS therefore perform a thorough cleaning each Saturday. Using a vacuum cleaner and antibacterial wipes, they disinfect surfaces and go over every nook and cranny. Along the way, they also collect and collect the waste.
Currently, however, an area of the station is not subject to any cleaning, and this is not due to laxity! It is actually an experience called MATISS, an acronym in English meaning “fixation of microbial aerosols on innovative surfaces”. The goal? Studying how microbes attach and spread over various surfaces developed by researchers.
Prevent biofilm formation
The experiment in question is the result of a collaboration between various French institutions: CNES, ENS Lyon and CEA-Leti. More precisely, this work aims to provide a better understanding of the biofilm attachment mechanism in microgravity situation. Remember that biofilms are structured clusters of bacterial cells. They are coated with a polymeric matrix and attached to a surface capable of protecting bacteria. However, this allows them to survive in hostile environmental conditions. The smart surfaces of the MATISS experiment react to the arrival of bacteria. The objective is to prevent the latter from landing, but above all from proliferating and generating their famous protective biofilm.
Launched in 2016, the experiment has already passed three major stages. The first consisted of placing four sample holders for six months in various locations of the Columbus module. The other phases were similar except that the materials used were different. For CNES, the discoveries made possible by the MATISS experiment should in the near future make it possible to simplify decontamination operations aboard the ISS. Moreover, it is not impossible that this research also has land applications, for example in public transport.