Viridian Note 00233: Mutant Space Fungus

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: Mir space station, fungus

Attention Conservation Notice: Just plain weird, and of rather dubious Viridian relevance.

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This contest ends very soon: March 20, 02001

Source: Reuters

"Tuesday March 6, 02001 9:32 AM ET

"Mutant Bacteria Next Threat From Russia's Mir (((Gotta love that headline!)))

"MOSCOW (Reuters) == Forget the danger of heavy-weight debris raining down from space when Russia sends the Mir orbiter to a watery grave this month == the real threat could be mutant fungi, a researcher said Tuesday.

"Yuri Karash, an expert on the Russian space program, said there was a possibility that micro-organisms, which have spent the last 15 years mutating in isolation aboard Mir, could present a threat if they survived the fall to Earth.

"'I wouldn't overstate it ... but a realistic problem exists,' Karash told a news conference."

(((I'm not particularly worried about the environmental threat from space fungus. People and goods have been shuttling out of the fungus-reeking Mir for years now, and they must have been carrying millions of spores. Nevertheless, I have to consider this bit of reportage a signature Year 2001 moment. Here we've got a stone-dead space station which is not just technically obsolete and financially broke, but infested with organisms unknown to science. So much for the Space Age. This is what comes of heroically Storming the Cosmos in a shiny projectile and forgetting that we live in a biosphere. Those heroic little Russian space bugs have been at it longer than Laika did; with fifteen years' faithful service, they're the planet's truly veteran cosmonauts.)))

"Karash, who has undergone cosmonaut training and is an aerospace advisor, said his conclusions were based on research carried out by Russia's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems.

"Researchers have said that the fungi could be especially virulent if mixed with earth varieties that attack metal, glass and plastic. (((It'd be quite the page-one story if a fungus returned from space and physically devoured industrial civilization.)))

"Western health officials have in the past expressed concerns about micro-organisms that could be brought back to earth after a Russian microbiologist 13 years ago discovered the first of many aggressive forms of fungi inhabiting Mir.

"Russian space officials have played down the threat, but visitors to the orbiter have found numerous types of fungi behind control panels, in air-conditioning units and on dozens of other surfaces." (((Wonderfully reminiscent of the Japanese camp sci-fi classic MATANGO, FUNGUS OF TERROR. They don't just live in the dead space station == they're decomposing it.)))

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