Research Projects


The Microbes in Atmosphere for Radiation, Survival and Biological Outcomes Experiment, or MARSBOx, in flight in September 2019. Its door bearing a NASA logo is rotated open, exposing samples of nine different types of microorganisms to the extreme environmental conditions of the stratosphere.
Credit: NASA

See our paper here:

On September 23rd 2019, our MARSBOx experiment was flown on a NASA scientific balloon mission. It carried different types of microorganisms -bacteria, filamentous fungi (mold) and yeast – inside an aluminum container (called TREX). The TREX, together with the flight, exposed the microbes to simulated Mars amosphere, pressure, temperature and UV-radiation conditions!

The balloon was launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, o The mission lasted 6.5 hours and reached the stratosphere at an altitude of 38 km! Preliminary results show that most of the bacteria died, but the fungal spores were able to withstand the harsh environment!

The MARSBOx team consists of scientists from the Space MicrobiologyAstrobiology and Biophysics research groups from the German Aerospace Center (DLR); scientists from the Aerobiology Laboratory from NASA Ames Research Center, as well as engineers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

MARSBOx mission patch by Marta Cortesao and Katharina Siems


I am happy to share with you my first space project called “Space Biofilms”  launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in november 2019!

  • Funding agency: NASA
  • Principal Investigator (PI): Luis Zea

Check the Space Biofilms official website here.

Biofilms are complex, resistant structures formed by microorganisms: from bacteria to fungi. These biofilms are found almost everywhere on Earth: on our teeth, in water systems, in medical instruments, on our bathtubs, etc.  Biofilms were also found aboard the ISS: either contaminating their onboard-grown lettuce or clogging the urinal-recycling system.


Goal:  In a long-term space mission, it would be desirable that biofilms can be monitored and controlled, of course to reduce systems maintenance and increase efficiency and reliability!

Two main “space microbes” that form biofilms will be studied: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, –a Gram-negative bacteria; and Penicillium rubens (or Penicillium chrysogenum) – a filamentous fungus (mold).

The science part will mainly consist on

1) growing the organisms on the ISS where they will be exposed to microgravity (or near weightlessness) and on Earth, where they are exposed to normal 1g gravity.

2) characterizing biofilm growth both in a morphological and genetic level.


AstroMold-1 is my first official project (wrote the proposal, and got accepted :D), and it is all about knowing if mold can resist to cosmic radiation!

We will test spores from different molds (Aspergillus and Penicillium sp.) under high amounts of cosmic radiation (He- and Fe-ions) and check if and how they survive! For that we will go to HIMAC (Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator) in Chiba, Japan.

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