RJR (Augmented) Microbial Sampling (RJR (Augmented) Microbial Sampling) - 12.12.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Microbes can proliferate in any environment, and they can threaten the health of crew members living in a closed environment. RJR Augmented Microbial Sampling refines areas where microbes are likely to grow on the International Space Station (ISS), despite efforts to clean spacecraft and cargo. Results provide insight into the microbial stowaways on board the ISS and form a basis for decisions about future monitoring and mitigation of microbes, both on the ISS and on future spacecraft.
Science Results for Everyone
Initiation of this investigation has been affected by the loss of the Orbital-3 launch vehicle and mission in October 2014.

The following content was provided by Charlie Mark Ott, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Charlie Mark Ott, Ph.D., NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Information Pending

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2014 - March 2016; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Current nominal environmental sampling provides a limited view of the microbes aboard the ISS.
  • Additional microbial environmental sampling is performed aboard the ISS to assess any further microbial risk to the crew or vehicle.
  • Specific sampling sites are jointly chosen by microbiologists from both NASA-JSC and the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP).
  • Culture-based and molecular analyses of the samples is performed, and the data is shared between NASA and Roscosmos.
  • Publications arising from the project are jointly published by NASA and Roscosmos investigators.


While stringent precautions are taken to clean and monitor spaceflight vehicles and their cargo prior to launch, complete prevention of microbial contamination is not possible. High levels of microorganisms in the vehicle environment increase the risk to crew health, system performance, and vehicle integrity. A more complete understanding of the microbial flora at selected locations aboard the International Space Station (ISS) provides additional insight into risks associated with these locations, and guidance for mitigation and prevention strategies for ISS and future exploration missions. The investigation team proposes to combine lessons learned from previous spaceflight experiments, and knowledge from operational monitoring of crew health to accomplish the following goals:
  • Collect samples from “potential zones of risk” - locations aboard the ISS that are prone to accumulation of microbial contamination. Targeted areas for sample collection are those sites with an enhanced potential for microbial contamination, and possibly material degradation.
  • Quantitative description of microbial flora from those samples:
    • enumeration and identification of microorganisms;
    • identification of specific traits in those organisms, such as enzymatic or biochemical processes, that could increase the risk to the crew or vehicle.
For example, areas identified as most at-risk (“hotspots”) for bacterial contamination in the ISS can be designated to receive special housekeeping attention or additional microbial monitoring (via sampling or observation). Looking forward, it is expected that this comprehensive risk assessment can be used to drive the engineering focus of future spacecraft and habitats by “engineering out” risks associated with microbial contamination (i.e. via materials selection).

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Space Applications
Microbes collect on various surfaces inside the ISS, where they can threaten crew members’ health and even degrade spacecraft materials. In this investigation, crew members collect samples from potential risk zones that are prone to microbial buildup, and scientists on Earth identify and describe the microbes collected. Research results also examine the microbes for key characteristics that can increase their risk to crew members or spacecraft materials. Areas identified as “hot spots” for bacterial contamination might receive special housekeeping attention or additional microbe monitoring. Data from this investigation improves the safe use of equipment by all ISS Partners, and provides a scientific basis for decisions about microbe monitoring onboard the ISS and future spacecraft.

Earth Applications
Results from this investigation contribute to the general understanding of microorganisms present in habitats such as office buildings, hospital rooms, and other controlled environments where humans live and work.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

Samples are collected as close to vehicle (SpaceX Dragon or Soyuz) return as possible. Samples from NASA hardware are returned to NASA, and samples from Roscosmos hardware are returned to Roscosmos.

Air Sampling occurs once every 3 months at 5 locations in U.S. Modules. Approximately 2 hours required for collecton of 5 air samples using U.S. hardware.
Surface Sampling occurs once every 3 months, collecting 10 samples from a variety of surfaces not usually sampled in U.S. Modules. Approximately 2.5 hours is required for collection of 10 samples using U.S. hardware.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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image NASA Image: ISS041E107705 - Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova performing air samples for the RJR Augmented Microbial Sampling investigation.
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