The Dark Microbe: Unseen Life in Space Through the Eyes of Astronaut Cameras

For those of us who have watched space exploration move from science fact into hard science fiction, everything cool is happening again, including Lyndon Johnson’s agency’s biggest out-of-this-world flight ever. And despite its ambitious purpose, in many ways the flight this time around reminds an old rocket hand like me of a fancy sci-fi sequel, a good thing because the entire point of the trip by the spacewalkers, Tracy C Dyson and Matt Dominick – aside from basic inventory checks – is to put cameras outside the International Space Station (ISS) to study microbes, some of which are known to us here on Earth, but many others that reveal for the first time where we came from, and where we might go next.

The Mission: A Blend of Maintenance and Discovery

A Step into the Microbial Unknown

The first spacewalk of 2024 might sound like just another maintenance trip, but really it’s an expedition into the microbial wilderness. The astronauts will use various swabbing tools to collect samples from the exterior of the Destiny and Quest modules. By doing so, they will be trying to decide if microorganisms are thriving – or merely surviving – in the microgravity environment outside the ISS.

Why This Matters

Learning how microbes survive is important not just for philosophical reasons. It could one day prove crucial to the long-term goal of sending humans on missions to explore distant exoplanets and the possibility of life elsewhere. Panspermia aside, if NASA and its peers discover extraterrestrial life on a planet such as Mars, it turns out they might not know if it is truly alien at all: it could be nobody’s visitors but our own.

The Astronauts' Toolkit: CAMERAS IN SPACE

Visualizing the Unseen

This spacewalk has been planned down to the second. As Dyson and Dominick collected their samples, they also had to document their journey for cameras that were far more than just ordinary cameras. These sophisticated devices enabled them to gather a record of what was happening out there, where no human had gone before, far beyond what the unfiltered human eye can see. That visual record would feed back to researchers on Earth, who could also understand more about the context of the spacewalk and the environment in which Dyson and Dominick were collecting their samples.

A View from Above

The public can watch the spacewalk live, and camera views affixed to the astronauts’ helmet communicators show the seemingly effortless but tightly choreographed task of collecting microbial samples, while suspended over Earth’s beautiful land- and seascapes. The coverage isn’t just for publicity. They are a data-point in judging how the astronauts interact with the exterior of the ISS.

Beyond Maintenance: A Glimpse Into Space's Microbial Ecosystem

The Potential for Contamination

But their samples might end up revealing the long-term effects of space station cleaning in ways we can’t even imagine yet. If microbes can indeed survive unprotected vent space, then what does that mean for cross-contamination of a celestial body? How do we explore the cleanest environments of other planets?


Cam fpv is there to collect everything that happens, because there’s no way for science to do all these things without eyes on the event. It’s the eyes that connect astronauts in space and scientists on Earth, and the footage and images will be analysed carefully to try to understand what happens to living organisms in this space environment. Maybe it will rewrite the book on what we know about what living things need and how resilient they are.

Looking Ahead: The Implications of This Groundbreaking Mission

It’s a critical step toward understanding the limitations of finding life elsewhere I catch my breath as Dyson and Dominick, their samples in hand, return to Earth. When they reach the surface, they leave behind cameras that transcend their human operators: cameras that could shape the future of space policy and the search for life in the cosmos.


Cameras have become the astronaut’s eyes in space, beaming back images mysteries to those of us on the ground, growing up with televised voyages and spacecraft exploration. Now, the cameras beam back observations of mysterious worlds on distant planets as well as footage from cutting-edge experiments that float just outside the International Space Station. Today, the orbiters and space probes serve as humanity’s eyes for the cosmos. Sooner than you think, the size of cameras will be brought down even further from the multimillion-dollar cameras on the flagship missions like New Horizons to handheld smartphone cameras that anyone will be able to use.

On this mission – and on many missions before and many more to come – cameras are not merely accessories to scientific instruments. They are part and parcel of discovery itself. They show the triumph, the lyricism and the ruggedness of scientific exploration, and, in so doing, bind us all to its inexorable rise and blossoming.

Jun 13, 2024
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