Stink on Mir

Published: Wednesday 31 December 1997

an italian microbiologist who has been monitoring hygiene on the Russian space station, Mir, says that filthy conditions have caused its occupants to suffer from food poisoning and other infections.

Mario Pitzurra of Perugia University says that these infections have so far been controlled by using antibiotics. "Mir's basic hygiene is very, very poor," says Pitzurra. There has been no proper hygiene on the spacecraft that has spent many years in the orbit. "The Russians have kept this quiet. But there have been outbreaks of skin disease and also respiratory infection. And they have had illness from food contamination, which has not been publicised," he says. Pitzurra has analysed samples brought back from Mir and has developed techniques to monitor the micro-organisms shed into a spacecraft by its crew.His research shows that people living in confined, dirty and sweaty conditions as those aboard Mir, can shed up to 50,000 micro-organisms per minute. Under normal conditions, the figure is just 3,000. However, Mikhail Sinelshchikov, head of crewed flight operations at the Russian Space Agency in Moscow, says that health checks on returning astronauts have "revealed nothing to worry about".

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