5 Real Space Experiments That Are Clearly Horror Movie Plots
Space might think of itself as a final frontier, but for boundless human ingenuity, it's just another hurdle to insanity-scream our way over. Ever since our dog overlords first exited Earth's atmosphere, the space agencies of the world have been hard at work to make the experience better, smoother ... and, most importantly, more balls-out terrifying. Cases in point:
Alien-Looking Space Lizards That Can Stab You With Their Own Ribs
Let's say you're walking on the beautiful countryside, minding your own business. Suddenly, you hear a godawful noise, and something lands from the sky. Holy shit! Was that a meteorite? An escaped Michael Bay special effect? One of those North Korean missiles you keep hearing about? Venturing closer to the smoldering thing, you notice that it's a space shuttle. How cool is that? NASA fucked up a landing right next to you! As the vessel's hatch slowly starts to open, you brace yourself for meeting some of the bravest, most science-ey men and women in existence ...
... who you're never going to meet. Instead, out of the shuttle crawl these things:
Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Several scenarios are running through your head, and none of them are pleasant. Are ... are those aliens? They look a little more like lizard men. Wait, hold on. Maybe they used to be real astronauts, but encountered a space witch who turned them into whatever the hell those things are. Either way, you're here, and those creatures are here, which leaves you rightfully boned. Enjoy your last seconds on earth before you become the first victim in the cataclysmic event that's no doubt about to come down.
In reality, those creatures are nothing more than humble Iberian ribbed newts, who are very much from earth but just happen to look like the most alien-seeming bastards in existence. In their infinite wisdom and astounding lack of irony, several space agencies have hauled these critters to space in six separate missions, in order to study certain weird quirks of their fertility and regenerative abilities. Their fertility -- much like that of humans -- went a little haywire, and the space trip initially seemed to do little favor for their healing abilities. But once they returned on Earth, they actually appeared to heal faster. So, not only are we basically creating our own little green men, we're repeatedly exposing them to space to help them be more unstoppable.
Not that they need any particular aid on that front, because the ribbed newt's main method of defense is turning itself into a spiky murder machine by straight up poisoning its own ribs and SNIKT-ing them through its skin, Wolverine-style. Remember how I said you were "boned" earlier? Yeah, that wasn't a euphemism. You're about to be a shish kebab on the torso of a guerrilla salamander.
The Soviet MIR Space Station Was Slowly Taken Over by Living Fungal Goo
As the first modular space station, the Soviet MIR was a magnificent victory for space exploration. It was also such a famously majestic piece of shit that modern space agencies' special shorthand for it is just an emoji of a turd flaming across the sky. The station's entire existence was one big experiment in human misery: It was a funky mess of exposed wires and duct tape that played host to space versions of disaster movies way more often than a thing specifically designed to keep humans alive in super-hostile environments should.
On a schedule terrifyingly close to routine, the station's hapless crews had to tackle terrors ranging from extreme fires and power outages to deadly collisions that rendered entire sections of the station uninhabitable. The movie Armageddon didn't get a lot of ... well, anything right, but it sure as shit nailed the Russian cosmonauts' penchant for haphazardly MacGyver-ing themselves out of any space situation.
However, their most infamous problem was that they found life in space, in a manner of speaking: In the confines of space, garden-variety molds and fungus that found their way to the station became hazardous fungal goo that ended up overrunning almost the entire station. What, that doesn't sound bad to you? Space traveling is hazardous in so many ways, a bit of poisonous funk behind the paneling barely counts as icing on the terror cake?
Well, apart from the toxicity, what you're forgetting is the smell. Everyone always forgets about the olfactory aspect of space horror. Much like the Alien xenomorphs totally smelling like lubed ass, the MIR was overwhelmed with the galactic equivalent of dorm room sink sludge. And much like that sink slime, the MIR fungus was going places that would have made Darwin knock himself out with his own evolution-boner: According to researchers, there was a very real chance that the MIR goofestation might mutate into strains that could be way more harmful to people than Earth molds. And hell, if some of it actually ended up on the planet, it could potentially wreak havoc on the whole ecosystem.
Of course, this never happened. Well, at least we think it never happened. The MIR didn't actually burn up completely in the atmosphere, and bits of it landed in the Pacific. So when the Blob eventually rises from the depths and starts steamrolling the world, you know who to blame.
NASA Tries To Kill A Sturdy Bacteria And Accidentally Create An Even Stronger One
For many years now, NASA has been having a problem. Their Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and particularly its Highbay 1 section, is supposed to be the most sterile environment on the planet. The robots that roam the area to assemble various space appendages are routinely baked, rubbed with alcohol, bathed in hydrogen peroxide, and generally sterilized in a manner that will no doubt raise a few artificial eyebrows once the robot apocalypse arrives. Yet despite all this, a single strain of particularly hardy bacteria called SAFR-032 has made Highbay 1 its home. In fact, it has invaded every single cleanroom NASA has, and gleefully moons (Ha!) any attempt to remove it.
However, NASA has an ace up their sleeve: they are freaking NASA, and thus have access to several devices they can use to shoot annoying shit into space. So, around 2001, they swiped a hefty sample of SAFR-032 off the Mars Odyssey that was about to be launched, because fuck you, SAFR. When we one day get to Mars, we sure as shit don't want you waiting. NASA then strapped the sample to one of their powerful science balloons, and let it fly up to 20 miles above the planet's surface, where the cold dryness and lessened protection against cosmic radiations roughly equals the conditions of Mars. They correctly presumed that dangling SAFR-032 up there for eight hours would be enough to kill it. And it was! Almost!
It killed about 99.9 percent of it, which is a pretty good number if you're, you know, not dealing with angrily resilient bacteria. Several other space and lab experiments with the bacteria followed, up to and including a 2008 ISS experiment where the bacteria spores were exposed to space for an insane 18 months. Again, almost all of the bacteria were killed.
The problem is that the bacteria that survives these experiments tends to be a completely different level of beast than the ones going in. They seem to be highly resistant to antibiotics, and the survivors of the ISS experiment even started developing an increased tolerance to UV radiation, SAFR-032's main weakness. We're talking about the kind of strain that our current spaceship cleaning techniques can't really remove, and that might not only hitch a ride from us once we eventually start colonizing, but even survive the conditions of a planet like Mars. Imagine the face of the future researcher who lands on the Red Planet, only to find that the place is not only teeming with life, but that said life is just countless samples of the same fucking SAFR-032 his space agency has spent decades fighting. Of course, he won't have to be disappointed for too long, because at that point, SAFR will have probably already decided that it would very much like to be flesh-eating bacteria.
ISS Scientists Accidentally Create A Two-Headed Space Worm
Earlier in 2017, scientists hauled a bunch of whole and cut-up flatworms aboard the International Space Station, because let's face it, that's exactly the sort of shit we'd do too if we had the grant money and access to a spacecraft. Their aim was to dick around with the worms' considerable regenerative abilities (think "lizard growing back its tail," but with several generous splashes of Deadpool mixed in) to see how they work in space. A number of weird anomalies soon presented themselves -- a peculiar shock when exposed to fresh water, and some metabolic changes. You know, neeeeeerrd stuff like that.
However, one of the flatworm segments wasn't going to have any of science's crap. Out of seemingly nothing but spite, this middle segment grew its head back. Then it grew another head in its tail end, because that's what happens when you perform weird experiments on slimy creatures in the terror-vacuum of space.
I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who has heeded the lessons of 1950s horror movies.
"Huh, that's odd," said the scientists. So they cut off both heads, to ship them and the middle section back to earth for further research. At which point, the middle section sprouted two brand new heads in place of the ones that had been lopped off. Congratulations, science! You took a bunch of tiny worms and worm bits, and accidentally Frankenstein'd them into a Space Hydra. Admittedly, a super small one, but come on -- you know how these things go. One of these days, an unwary researcher is going to leave his coffee near the thing, and some weird chemical reaction with lots of smoke and a 1980s light show will take place. And the next thing you know, you're hauling all your puniest scientists to the ISS in a desperate hope that the gamma rays of space will turn them into the Hulk, because that's your only shot of taking down what this multi-headed monster will inevitably mutate into.
The Hell Cell Project
When an institution that exists to take things to space starts dropping around terms like "thinking of life as a technology," things start to look a lot less like "Let's go put our flag on a moon" and a lot more like "We are Borg." And when said institution starts poker-facedly talking about its experiments in "synthetic biology" as the Hell Cell Project, it's time to call Will Smith or the Avengers, because there's no way robotic supervillain armies aren't going to be unleashed upon the unwary world.
W-wait. We're doing it? NASA actually has a Hell Cell project going on, aiming to research "the design and construction of new biological parts and systems and the redesign of existing ones for useful purposes"?
OK, then. Surely, this is some sort of fringe experiment, buried umpteen floors under the headquarters with a budget of zero, one merely kept alive to appease whatever mad ghost of a dead Nazi rocket scientist it's designed to keep occupied? Ha, of course not! It's a deathly serious project headed by famed NASA astrobiologist/evolutionary biologist Lynn Rothschild, and they're gunning to wreck shit with it. But don't just take my word for it -- here's Rothschild explaining their jam in her own words:
"You take an organism that maybe can normally only live up to 80 or 100 . And you give it some extra genes that maybe could allow it to live at a higher temperature. Now, it turns out high temperature is a relatively difficult thing to do. But say you take an organism and you give it a few extra genes to allow it to live at pH zero or maybe below so in a very acidic environment. And then, you can say, well, if this planet is very acidic and cold and this and that, we can mix and match genes that would not normally be found in nature together."
There's probably a whole lot of science behind those layman's terms she's gracefully using for us non-NASA supergenius chumps, but man if that doesn't sound a lot like a bunch of space scientist motherfuckers splicin' genes, BioShock style. I'm absolutely not kidding about that, by the way. Rothschild goes on to say:
"But if you start thinking of life as a technology, there are a lot of things we can do, even something as bizarre as maybe generating electricity."
Electricity. Man, that's not preparing us for space. That's the opening speech of most of Spider-Man's villains. Still, I can't help but be kind of impressed with this sort of tenacious insanity. We, as a species, want to get off of this planet so hard, we're willing to start punching biology until either lightning comes out or it willingly hands over its lunch money. Tell me we can't fucking gentrify Mars within a couple of generations with an attitude like that.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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