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Published September 2019 | Published
Journal Article Open

Phobos LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment)


The Planetary Society's Phobos Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (Phobos LIFE) flew in the sample return capsule of the Russian Federal Space Agency's Phobos Grunt mission and was to have been a test of one aspect of the hypothesis that life can move between nearby planets within ejected rocks. Although the Phobos Grunt mission failed, we present here the scientific and engineering design and motivation of the Phobos LIFE experiment to assist with the scientific and engineering design of similar future experiments. Phobos LIFE flew selected organisms in a simulated meteoroid. The 34-month voyage would have been the first such test to occur in the high-radiation environment outside the protection of Earth's magnetosphere for more than a few days. The patented Phobos LIFE "biomodule" is an 88 g cylinder consisting of a titanium outer shell, several types of redundant seals, and 31 individual Delrin sample containers. Phobos LIFE contained 10 different organisms, representing all three domains of life, and one soil sample. The organisms are all very well characterized, most with sequenced genomes. Most are extremophiles, and most have flown in low Earth orbit. Upon return from space, the health and characteristics of organisms were to have been compared with controls that remained on Earth and have not yet been opened.

Additional Information

© 2019 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Submitted 14 May 2018; Accepted 14 December 2018; Published Online: 9 Aug 2019. Our Phobos LIFE Team member, colleague, and friend, David S. McKay, PhD, passed away in February 2013. We wish to acknowledge his contributions to this project and to the team. This project was made possible by the generous support of members of The Planetary Society. We thank ATCC, where authors T.L. and A.S. worked, for all their contributions to the LIFE projects. We thank Guenther Reitz for his assistance. We also thank the many individuals and organizations who made up the Phobos Sample Return project, in particular Alexander Zakharov and Viacheslav Linkin. No competing financial interests exist.

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