Spacecraft and space habitats supporting human exploration contain a diverse population of microorganisms. Microorganisms may threaten human habitation in many ways that directly or indirectly impact the health, safety, or performance of astronauts. The ability to produce and maintain spacecraft and space stations with environments suitable for human habitation has been established over 40 years of human space flight. An extensive database of environmental microbiological parameters has been provided for short-term (< 20 days) space flight by more than 100 missions aboard the Space Shuttle. The NASA Mir Program provided similar data for long-duration missions. Interestingly, the major bacterial and fungal species found in the Space Shuttle are similar to those encountered in the nearly 15-year-old Mir. Lessons learned from both the US and Russian space programs have been incorporated into the habitability plan for the International Space Station. The focus is on preventive measures developed for spacecraft, cargo, and crews. On-orbit regular housekeeping practices complete with visual inspections are essential, along with microbiological monitoring. Risks associated with extended stays on the Moon or a Mars exploration mission will be much greater than previous experiences because of additional unknown variables. The current knowledge base is insufficient for exploration missions, and research is essential to understand the effects of space flight on biological functions and population dynamics of microorganisms in spacecraft. Equally important is a better understanding of the immune response and of human-microorganism-environment interactions during long-term space habitation.
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