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Study finds NASA "clean room" a total crap hole

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9 October 2007


NASA satellite technician Rick Morely cleans up some kind of poop discovered in the "Clean Room"

WASHINGTONResearchers have found a surprising diversity of filth, including large lumps of animal poop, in a seemingly unlikely place — the so-called sterile "clean rooms" where NASA assembles its spacecraft and prepares them for launch.

Samples of air and surfaces in the clean rooms at three National Aeronautics and Space Administration centers revealed surprising numbers and types of shit that appear to belong to some large animal, possibly a dog, bear or a kangaroo, according to a newly published study.

The findings are significant, the researchers report, because they can help reduce the chances of stowaway microbes contaminating planets and other bodies visited by the spacecraft and confounding efforts to discover new life elsewhere.

“These findings will advance the search for life on Mars and other worlds both by sparking improved shit-removal methods and by preventing false-positive results in future experiments to detect extraterrestrial shit,” said the leader of the study, Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a microbiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Identifying and cataloging shit found in the Clean Room is important in interpreting results of sampling missions to other planets, scientists said. If similar shit turns up in alien samples, researchers could disregard the results as contamination and not evidence of extraterrestrial life.

NASA tries to protect its spacecraft and their delicate components from dust and bacteria by assembling and testing them in rooms that are meticulously cleaned of dust and dirt by having their air continuously filtered to reduce fine particles. People working in these rooms wear coveralls with gloves and sometimes wear face masks. Which is precisely why the shit discovery is such a mystery.

"I guess people are leaving their pets overnight in here. Or something," said Dr. Wagner Boggs, head of NASA's incredibly deep space research group. "So far, no one's come forward to admit being responsible for the shit."

Researchers from Dr. Venkateswaran’s Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published the results of their tests Tuesday in the European journal FEMS Microbiology Ecology.

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