From space to bacterial colonization

by Agnieszka Pokrywka

Bacterial, terrestrial, and interplanetary colonization is analyzed through a subjective and personal narrative. Could bacteria serve as a metaphor for space colonization? What can we learn from non-human organisms and from past colonial misconduct to re-imagine responsible space research and space exploration?

Cyanobacteria are a multifaceted little bunch, and the fact that they’re being used as superfood for astronauts, the future “colonizers” of Mars, is just the tip of the iceberg. As the first photosynthetic organism that ever existed, it is responsible for allowing higher life forms to evolve on this planet. The Aztecs called it “tecuitlatl”. They cultivated it and it was an important part of their diet until the fall of Tenochtitlan in the 16th Century. Cyanobacteria is also known as the “blue-green algae”; it forms mats on the water surface and produces toxins that are harmful to humans and to aquatic life. We commonly know it as “spirulina”; it is produced on a global scale and advertised as a fashionable superfood. Unsurprisingly, it is also considered to be an important element in a space crew’s diet. Since it’s easy to grow and harvest, it’s projected to become a nutritious source of food for the first colonizers of Mars.

During my mission at MDRS I will cultivate spirulina in wearable and portable bioreactors. I will also design food recipes involving these species that comply with space mission rules. Last but not least, I will video document the whole process. Cultivating celestial bacterial colonies on Mars while being an analog settler on the Red Planet will become a starting point for the artistic reflection on what we can learn from microorganisms and from space to live better lives on Earth.

The project is supported by:

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