Boeing Testing Antimicrobial Surface Coating on ISS, a Lot of Touching Involved

Astronauts asked to repeatedly touch these objects to test a new surface coating material 1 photo
Photo: Boeing
Imagine seeing a bunch of astronauts heading to a set location on the ISS every few days and gently touching a surface. It may seem like a ritual of some secret guild, but in fact it is an experiment designed by Boeing and The University of Queensland (UQ), meant to highlight the potential properties of an antimicrobial surface coating.
Touching is considered to be one of the main mechanisms used by viruses and bacteria to spread, and in a world where one such virus has everybody by the throat, there’s no shortage of ideas.

Boeing started playing around with the idea of creating an antimicrobial coating for surfaces some time ago, and last year it tested it on its very own ecoDemonstrator, a research airplane the company is using for a variety of tasks. In the meantime, the project made its way into space, on the International Space Station (ISS).

There, the team of astronauts set up two identical sets of objects - an airplane seat buckle, fabric from airplane seats and seat belts, and parts of an armrest and a tray table. One set is wearing the special coating, the other not. From time to time, astronauts go over to these objects and touch them to ensure the transfer of naturally occurring microbes.

By the end of the year, the samples will be sent back to Earth for analysis, where the effectiveness of the surface coating can be determined.

"After years of development, it is truly exciting to see our research in space," said in a statement Professor Michael Monteiro from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

"The primary purpose of our antimicrobial coating was to help protect space missions. After the current pandemic struck, we modified the coating's formula to also target the COVID-19 virus if it is present on a surface on Earth. We look forward to continuing our testing regimen and working to gain regulatory approvals."

If successful, the coating could be used to cover surfaces on spacecraft in a bid to help crews stay safe during their time in space, but its potential is, of course, limitless.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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