Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment

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Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment
File:LIFE Bio-Module Assy Exploded 4 lg.jpg
'LIFE' Bio-Module
Mission type Astrobiological experiment on board the Fobos-Grunt spacecraft.
Operator The Planetary Society
Mission duration 3 years (planned)
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer NPO Lavochkin
Launch mass <100 g (3.5 oz)
Start of mission
Launch date November 8, 2011,[1]
Rocket Zenit-2SB
Launch site Baikonur 45/1
Contractor Roscosmos
Deployed from Fobos-Grunt
End of mission
Deactivated Fobos-Grunt failed before TMI
Decay date 15 January 2012 (2012-01-16)

The Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment[2] (LIFE or Phobos LIFE[3]) was an interplanetary mission developed by the Planetary Society. It consisted of sending selected microorganisms on a three-year interplanetary round-trip in a small capsule aboard the Russian Fobos-Grunt spacecraft in 2011, which was a failed sample-return mission to the Martian moon Phobos. The Fobos-Grunt mission failed to leave Earth orbit,[4][5] and was destroyed.

The goal was to test whether selected organisms can survive an as yet undetermined number of years in deep space by flying them through interplanetary space. The experiment would have tested one aspect of transpermia, the hypothesis that life could survive space travel, if protected inside rocks blasted by impact off one planet to land on another.[6][7]

Precursor[edit | hide all | hide | edit source]

Prior to the Phobos LIFE experiment, a precursor LIFE prototype was successfully flown in 2011 aboard the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134. Known as the Shuttle-LIFE (also LIFE[8]) experiment.[9][10]

The experiment[edit | hide | edit source]

The project includes representatives of all three domains of life: bacteria, eukaryota and archaea. The capsule was transporting 10 types of organisms in 30 self-contained samples, i.e., each in triplicate. In addition, one or more natural native soil samples were flown in their own self-contained capsule.[11] The Phobos-Soil sample return mission was the only attempted biological science mission that would have returned to Earth from deep space, far beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field; sending biological samples through deep space is therefore a much better test of interplanetary survivability than sending the samples on a typical Earth-orbiting flight.[11]

The project was being done in collaboration with the Russian Space Research Institute, the Institute for Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University, the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), and the Institute for Aerospace Medicine in Germany.

Specimens[edit | hide | edit source]

Three fundamental guidelines governed the selection of the organisms:[12] First, the organisms selected represent the three domains of lifeeukaryote, bacteria and archaea. Second, the organisms are very well studied (e.g., having their genome sequenced and studied in many other experiments) to make it possible to accurately assess the effects of the long exposure to space. If they had already been studied in space conditions so much the better, since it would enable researchers to pinpoint precisely how organisms were affected by the years-long exposure to the interplanetary environment. Finally, a strong preference was given to organisms that appear to stand the best chance of surviving the journey. These are extremophiles, organisms that thrive in conditions that would kill the vast majority of Earthly creatures.

The 10 'passenger' organisms selected are listed below:[12]



  • Haloarcula marismortui
    • If Mars had an ocean, it would have been very salty. H. marismortui is halophilic.
  • Methanothermobacter wolfeii
    • Mars Express has discovered methane in the Martian atmosphere. M. wolfeii is a methane-producing organism.
  • Pyrococcus furiosus
    • P. furiosus thrives at about 100 °C, it was supposed to act as a maximum temperature indicator.


Capsule design[edit | hide | edit source]

The mass of the Bio-Module on board the Fobos-Grunt spacecraft was 100 grams or less. The design is a short cylinder. The bio-module provided 30 small tubes (3 millimeters in diameter) for individual microbe samples. It also accommodated a native sample of bacteria – derived from a permafrost region on Earth – within a cavity 26 mm in diameter.[11]

Mission failure[edit | hide | edit source]

The module passed stress tests including a shake test with vibrations at frequencies to 1,100 Hz and an impact test of 4,000 g, designed to simulate the potential impact of the capsule on Earth.[18] The LIFE experiment was launched on November 8, 2011 on board the Fobos-Grunt, however, the spacecraft failed to depart Earth orbit due to a programming error,[19][20] and fell back to Earth in the Pacific Ocean.[4] The module was not recovered.[21] The team is seeking out future exploratory opportunities.[22]

See also[edit | hide | edit source]

References[edit | hide | edit source]

  1. Запуск станции "Фобос-Грунт" к спутнику Марса отложен до 2011 года (in Russian). RIA Novosti. 21 September 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  2. Asian Scientist, "Phobos-Grunt Mission Carrying Yinghuo-1 Space Probe Suffers Technical Glitch", Srinivas Laxman, 9 November 2011
  3. The Planetary Society, "Phobos LIFE Ready to Launch", Bruce Betts, September 2011 (accessed 11-11-11)
  4. 4.0 4.1 RIA Novosti, "Phobos-Grunt mission ‘impossible,’ says chief designer", 13 December 2011
  5. Universe Today, "Russian Space Program Prepares for Phobos-Grunt Re-Entry", David Warmflash, 13 December 2011
  6. Warmflash, David; Ciftcioglu, Neva; Fox, George; McKay, David S.; Friedman, Louis; Betts, Bruce; Kirschvink, Joseph (November 5–7, 2007). Living interplanetary flight experiment (LIFE): An experiment on the survivalability of microorganisms during interplanetary travel (PDF). Workshop on the Exploration of Phobos and Deimos. Ames Research Center. 
  7. Zak, Anatoly (1 September 2008). "Mission Possible". Air & Space Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 26 May 2009. 
  8., "LIFE Launches Aboard Endeavour's Last Flight", The Planetary Society, 27 April 2011 (accessed 11-11-2011)
  9., "Salvaging Science from Stricken Mars Moon Probe: A Scientist's View", David Warmflash, 11 November 2011
  10., "LIFE Ready to Launch on Endeavour's Last Flight", The Planetary Society, 16 May 2011 (accessed 11-11-11)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Frequently Asked Questions". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Ten Hardy Organisms Selected for the LIFE Experiment: Who will Survive the 3-Year Space Odyssey?". The Planetary Society. Archived from the original on January 20, 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  13. Alexander, Amir. "The LIFE Organisms: Bacteria". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 The Planetary Report, Volume XXIX, number 2, March/April 2009, "We make it happen! Who will survive? Ten hardy organisms selected for the LIFE project, by Amir Alexander
  15. Alexander, Amir. "The LIFE Organisms: Archaea". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  16. Alexander, Amir. "The LIFE Organisms: Eukaryotea". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  17. Jönsson, K. Ingemar Jönsson; Elke Rabbow; Ralph O. Schill; Mats Harms-Ringdahl & Petra Rettberg (9 September 2008). "Tardigrades survive exposure to space in low Earth orbit". Current Biology. 18 (17): R729–R731. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.048. PMID 18786368. 
  18. Gelfand, Mark (15 October 2008). "LIFE Experiment Module Passes Vibration and Impact Tests". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  19. Clark, Stephen (6 February 2012). "Russia: Computer crash doomed Phobos-Grunt". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  20. "Programmers are to be blamed for the failure of Phobos mission". ITAR-TASS News Agency. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  21. Emily Lakdawalla (January 13, 2012). "Bruce Betts: Reflections on Phobos LIFE". The Planetary Society Blog. Retrieved March 17, 2012. 
  22. "Update on Phobos – Where’s a shuttle when you need it?" Victor Grippi – The Atomic Writer. Retrieved 04-10-2012.

External links[edit | hide | edit source]

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