Issue 22 | June 2015

Space Biology

Big Picture’s first 21 issues have been firmly grounded on planet Earth. Now we’d like to look at an even bigger picture – the universe. Space biology looks at life in space from several perspectives: how it began, where it might be, and the effects of space as a rather extreme habitat. 

Join us on our journey to explore the past, present and future of life in space. Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles below and check out our multimedia content and activities.

How did life begin?

Infographic: Space biology

Our universe in a nutshell? In this infographic, we try to get to grips with some astronomical numbers

Beginnings

How did our planet – and the life on it – get started?

Planetary puzzles

Why is Earth habitable while other planets are not?

Biosignatures

Signs of life on other bodies

Life as we know it

Do we know what we are looking for?

Carbon’s central role

The sixth element on the periodic table supports life as we know it

Origins of life

This article, first published in our ‘Evolution’ issue, asks: how did life on Earth get going?

The possibility of silicon-based life

All life as we know it is carbon-based. But what about life as we don’t know it?

Bodies of evidence

Staying strong

The challenge of keeping fit in space

Out of this world

Long-term low gravity can seriously affect the human body

Radiation

A critical limiting factor for life in space

Radiation in depth

What is the effect of radiation on astronauts? What damage can it do?

Mind games

Much is discussed about space’s physical effects, but what about its mental effects?

Double duty

Twin studies in space

The unusual suspects

Extremophiles in the spotlight

Space innovation

Helping healthcare

The trickle-down, spin-off technology from our exploration of space

Launching vaccines

Future benefits of space exploration

Crystal clear

There are benefits to studying proteins in space

Astronomy and medicine

Looking at the stars could benefit our health, but in surprising ways

Watchful eyes

Space satellites monitor Earth, providing useful data for health research

Farming in space

What are the challenges of creating a food source in space?

Experimentation

Video experiment: Responding to extremes

Our film studies the effect of global warming on the crustacean Daphnia by observing its heart rate when surrounded by different temperatures

Video experiment: Is there life in there?

Watch our film, which touches on the Viking space probes to Mars and involves a practical comparison of sand samples

Video experiment: What’s your limit?

Explore the limits of life on Earth in a practical activity involving yeast exposed to different conditions

Setting up an experiment in space

What modifications need to be made?

Big and small

Grappling with the numbers

Space away from space

How can you re-create these conditions at home?

A short history of space biology

A taster of the biological experiments that have been carried out on the International Space Station

Ethical questions

The case for and against human spaceflight

Should we go into space ourselves or just call the shots from home?

Foreign objects

What might space travel unknowingly introduce to Earth? And what about the other way around?

Genetic selection

Are you born an astronaut? Read our background information and decide for yourself

Is space research worth the cost?

Should we be spending so much money on research in outer space, when there are many worthy projects back on Earth?

Privatising space

Who owns space (and the research done there)?

Historical aspects

A short history of medicine in the stars

A short history of medicine’s relationship with astronomy and astrology

A short history of human space travel

Retrace the steps we took to the stars

A short history of space biology

A taster of the biological experiments that have been carried out on the International Space Station

Activities and lesson ideas

Activity: Relative size

A fun way to think about magnitude and scale

Quiz: Making sense of space

How well do you know life in space? We test your knowledge, from biosignatures to extremophiles

Activity: Location, location, location – space edition

If we want to live on other worlds, where could we go? This activity is useful for younger age groups

More lesson ideas on magnitude and scale

Getting to grips with scale is a major challenge when exploring space biology

Further resources and activities on space biology

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce activities and resources related to space biology

Video experiment: Responding to extremes

Our film studies the effect of global warming on the crustacean Daphnia by observing its heart rate when surrounded by different temperatures

Video experiment: What’s your limit?

Explore the limits of life on Earth in a practical activity involving yeast exposed to different conditions

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Peter Woolman

Meet Peter, who’s studying for a PhD in astrobiology

Real Voices interview: Brigitte Godard

Meet Brigitte, a flight surgeon with the European Space Agency

Real Voices interview: Dasha Ausiannikava

Meet Dasha, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, who studies halophiles

Real Voices interview: Simon Sheridan

Meet Simon, a space scientist working on the Rosetta mission. Find out why his educational journey was a bit “longer than normal”

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic