In 2014, Roscosmos cosmonauts collected cosmic dust samples from the outside of the ISS and analyzed them for any signs of extraterrestrial life. According to Russian state-owned news agency Tass, Roscosmos scientists now believe the samples may contain “biomaterial” that is not of this planet:
The micrometeorites and comet dust that settle on the ISS surface may contain biogenic substance of extra-terrestrial origin in its natural form,. The ISS surface is possibly a unique and easily available collector and keeper of comet substance and, possibly, of biomaterial of extra-terrestrial origin.
Tass explains that the ISS spends much of its time orbiting in the wake of dust streams and other “substance flows” trailing off of the backs of comets, which have been claimed to spread organic and biological material throughout the universe. NASA has yet to issue a comment on the reports. Most likely, any microbial life on the exterior of the space station could be terrestrial in origin and could have come into contact with the space station through incidental means. Still, it’s worth looking into – if Roscosmos actually has found organic material on the exterior of the ISS, that is. Strangely though, another development this week hints that something odd might indeed be going on at the International Space Station.
On May 1st this year, commercial aerospace firm SpaceX launched a mysterious spy satellite into orbit on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office. The exact nature and purpose of satellite NROL-76 is unknown, and SpaceX cut the live feed of the satellite’s launch just as the rocket entered its second stage. Sure, spy satellites and commercial rockets launches are relatively commonplace today, but it’s the satellite’s behavior that has skywatchers befuddled.
According to satellite tracking blog SatTrackCam, the NROL-76 passed within just a few kilometers of the ISS on June 3rd, just outside of its collision avoidance zone. The satellite then circled the ISS before entering its own orbit.
SatTrackCam’s Marco Langbroek claims that this type of activity is an anomaly, and should certainly attract some suspicion in the international aerospace community:
I am struggling to understand why the NRO allowed this close approach to happen, if it was not intentional. This event was bound to attract attention and that harms the classified character of the mission. It is also an extremely sloppy thing to do because this close an approach to a high profile object like ISS is politically risky. As the ISS is an international cooperation which includes two parties (the United States and the Russian Federation) that are currently geopolitically on an uneasy footing, sending your military payload so close to the ISS as one party is eyebrow raising.
On another satellite tracking site, SatObs.org, Ted Molczan writes that “I am inclined to believe that the close conjunctions between USA 276 and ISS are intentional, but this remains unproven.” The announcement by Roscosmos of possible alien life on the outside of the ISS is unusual given the timing of this satellite fly-by. Could the two be related? Who knows. But put this mysterious development alongside the unexplained nuclear activity being detected in the Arctic and the anomalous “killer” satellite activity seen in Russian satellites, and it’s possible that Cold War 2.0 is already getting interesting.