Funding agency

NASA (80NSSC17K0036)

Launch date

Scheduled to launch to the International Space Station mid-2019 (SpaceX-18)


Biofilm growth has been observed in Soviet/Russian (Salyuts and Mir), American (Skylab), and International (ISS) Space Stations, sometimes jeopardizing key equipment like spacesuits, water recycling units, radiators, and navigation windows. Biofilm formation also increases the risk of human illnesses and therefore needs to be well understood to enable safe, long-duration, human space missions. The Biofilm in Space (BFS) project aims to characterize biofilm inside the International Space Station in a controlled fashion, assessing changes in mass, thickness, and morphology. The space-based experiment also aims at elucidating the biomechanical and transcriptomic mechanisms involved in biofilm formation in space. To search for potential solutions, different materials and surface topologies will be used as the substrata for microbial growth.


What are this project's objectives?

This project aims to characterize biofilm mass, thickness, morphology, and the associated gene expression using various spaceflight-relevant microbial species (one bacterial and one fungal) and different substrata materials.  Additionally, this experiment has the aim of elucidating the biomechanical and transcriptomic mechanisms involved in biofilm formation in space. This project also aims to investigate the role of material surface topology on biofilm formation, as well as to test a novel lubricant-impregnated surface.


How is this being done?

BioServe’s 12-Well BioCells are used to house different 1cm2 coupons of varying materials. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Penicillium rubens are the bacterial and fungal model organisms being used, respectively.

BioServe's 12-Well BioCell

BioServe's 12-Well BioCells loaded with 1cm2 coupons of different materials. 


BFS Team

The BFS team is composed of scientists, engineers, and undergraduate and graduate students from two national space agencies (NASA, German Aerospace Center (DLR)), three universities (University of Colorado, Boulder, Saarland University, and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT)), and one research center (BioServe Space Technologies).

BFS Team



The students at the University of Colorado, Boulder (BioServe Space Technologies), German Aerospace Center (DLR), Saarland University, and MIT are the backbone of this project. 

Biofilm Team Boulder

University of Colorado, Boulder BFS science team. From left to right: Luis Zea (Principal Investigator), Rylee Schauer (Aerospace Engineering - Bioastronautics graduate student), Shilpi Ganguly - (former M.S. Modern Human Anatomy student, now bacterial scientists), Zeena Nisar (Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (MCDB) and Biochemistry undergraduate student).


Fungal team

Fungal scientists and PI. From left to right: Rylee SchauerMarta Cortesão (DLR's Institute of Aerospace Medicine), and Luis Zea

BioServe Space Technologies        CU

Zeena Nisar - Zeena is a premed student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently double majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology with a minor in English and a certificate in Public Health. She is assisting on the preliminary ground testing of the bacteria with the material coupons. She is looking forward to contributing to to the biofilm project and considering the human health implications of our results.

Shilpi Ganguly - Shilpi recieved her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering with a second major in Spanish and minor in Aerospace Engineering from Washington University in St.Lous. She received her M.S. in Modern Human Anatomy from The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and based her Master's Thesis work on this project, namely on characterizing biofilm growth on silicone (same as used to make catheters). She now leads the bacterial laboratory work of this project. 

Rylee Schauer - Rylee Schauer holds a B.S in Chemical and Biological Engineering from University of Colorado, Boulder with a minor in Biomedical Engineering.  She is currently pursuing a M.S. in Aerospace Engineering with a focus in Bioastronautics at CU Boulder. Rylee leads the fungal laboratory work of this project, performing ground tests with Penicillium Rubens to determine the spaceflight experimental protocol and preparing for launch. 

DLR logo

Marta Cortesão - Marta received her MSc degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from FCUP (University of Porto), doing her MSc thesis at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid. She is now a PhD student at the Space Microbiology Research Group at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne (under the supervision of Dr. Ralf Möller), working on filamentous fungi adaptation to space conditions and their biotechnological applications. She loves astrobiology, education and science outreach. On the BFS project  she is characterizing biofilm formation of the fungus Penicillium rubens in simulated microgravity, helping the team define and set the upcoming ISS experiment!

MIT Logo

Samantha McBride is a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at MIT where she is advised by Dr. Kripa Varanasi. She has a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering, and her lab experience includes water treatment, environmental transport, crystallization, self-assembly, and microgravity fluid mechanics. She has been involved with space science for 5 years and is currently the student president for the American Society of Gravitational and Space Research


Jiaqi Luo is a PhD student in Saarland University under supervision of Prof. Dr. Frank Mücklich, working on antibacterial surfaces and relevant surface techniques. He has received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Central South University in China, where he was introduced to the surface science and coating techniques. In this current project, he is applying the method of Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP) to produce surfaces with designed micro-topography.


Project Bibliography

M.Sc. Thesis

Journal Articles

  • Zea, L., Nisar, Z., Rubin, P., Cortesão, M., Luo, J., McBride, S. A., Moeller, R., Klaus, D., Mueller, D., Varanasi, K., K., Muecklich, F., Stodieck, L. (2018). Design of a spaceflight biofilm experiment. Acta Astronautica 148 (294-300)

Conference Papers, Abstracts, and Posters



NASA announcement:

Marta Cortesao's Space Microbes Blog: