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February 22, 2006

Space Shuttle Crash Proves Possibility of Panspermia, Or Life From The Stars?

Out of tragedy, discovery?

Bacteria survived Columbia explosion, sparking scientific leap

Researcher finds evidence to support ancient theory.

By Miguel Liscano
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

SAN MARCOS β€” When the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over East Texas in 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard, Texas State University biology professor Robert McLean thought his bacterial experiment package on board had been destroyed. Then it was found mostly intact in a Nacogdoches convenience store parking lot and returned to him.

Now he says it's evidence that furthers a theory called panspermia: the hypothesis that life can travel through space by hitchhiking from one world to another on meteorites.

After the accident, when McLean inspected his experiment, he found that a strain of bacteria called Microbispora had survived the fiery descent through Earth's atmosphere.

...

"This organism appears to have survived an atmospheric passage, with the heat and the force of impact," McLean said in a written statement. "This is important for panspermia, because if something survives space travel, it eventually has to get down to the Earth and survive passage through the atmosphere and impact."

McLean says his findings do not prove panspermia because the bacteria traveled about a fifth of the speed that a meteorite would travel. But, he said, it was at least six times faster than anything tested before.

Other scientists are skeptical, however, and say McLean has to answer two key questions:

1) Where did this life-from-the-stars supposedly originate from?

And, more importantly,

2) why does "re-entry-surviving bacteria" found in the convenience store parking lot so closely resemble nachos with hot pepperjack cheese and a cherry slushee?

Thanks to SWOOD.


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