NASA took every precaution when they launched it into space. It’s destination was the International Space Station (ISS). The station’s latest life form, methicillian-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) arrived via SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on February 18, 2017.
According to the official press release:
The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA — a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, and homicide combined — but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen’s next moves well before they appear on Earth.
That was five months ago.
“Have you recovered from your July 4th debauchery enough to play with your germs again, Heather?”
“That’s Dr. Tilman to you, Andre. And what are you doing this morning?”
Heather Tilman and her French co-worker Andre Moreau frequently sparred with each other, but it was good-natured. She was a physician and bioengineer responsible for tracking the mutations in MRSA with the specialized Gene-RADAR device, and he was one of the three Flight Engineers currently assigned to ISS.
“Calculating the orbital trajectories of man-made objects in our orbital plane.”
“In other words, you’re tracking space junk.” She chucked under her breath as she adjusted her instruments. What was going on with MRSA this morning?
“A worthy cause to be sure, Heather. You wouldn’t want some long-lost wrench or bolt putting a hole in the cage you keep those murderous little creatures in.”
Andre never made it publicly known that he was just slightly phobic of diseases, and certainly the presence of MRSA in close proximity did nothing to relieve his anxiety. He actually liked Heather, but at the same time bore a silent resentment that she and her experiment had arrived in the middle of his six-month assignment on ISS.
“Pipe down, you two.” Commander Moshe Pritkin’s voice crackled in their headsets. He was just beginning his EVA to examine one of the solar panels that had been underperforming for the past week. The working theory was a connector had failed, and while it wasn’t exactly mission critical, the station needed a reliable and predictable stream of power to perform all of the experiments during the current mission, which included the MRSA mutation observations and Olga Neilsen’s climate change modeling.
“Acknowledged, Commander.” Andre flashed Heather a smile and returned to his workstation.
“Yes, Commander.” Heather’s reply was more of a mutter as she concentrated on the latest effects of the bacterial mutation. “What the…?”
Flight Engineer Sergey Petrov was monitoring Commander Pritkin’s EVA while the third Flight Engineer on the crew, Seth Adams was supervising overall station operations.
Pritkin was EVA for just under an hour when the rest of the crew started dying.
Heather hadn’t been able to recognize MRSA’s latest mutation because it was so unlikely. It had become corrosive, or at least some of the population had developed that ability, eating millions of microscopic openings into their containment and escaping. It also became an airborne infection. Heather died less than sixty seconds after MRSA entered her lungs.
Pritkin could hear Petrov coughing into his mic before it went dead. After that, he couldn’t raise anyone in the station, which meant his communications to Earth were also effectively terminated, at least until he could get back inside.
He used the manual controls to close the inner airlock door and depressurize it. He couldn’t have possibly known MRSA was already inside. When exposed to the vacuum of space, the bacteria became spores able to survive the airlessness, cold, and radiation. The spores were able to endure re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Long before MRSA started menacing Earth, enough remained on ISS to dissolve the seals on Pritkin’s suit, infecting and killing him. He never even had a chance to report the crew’s death to NASA.
A year later, nearly a third of the world’s population was dead. The rest were saved thanks to the revolutionary work of a research team from George Mason University who had been experimenting with the blood of Komodo dragons. The blood contained key cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) which was able to stimulate the human immune systems against MRSA.
The world’s largest lizards living on just five small islands in Indonesia became the saviors of the human race.
I’m not particularly satisfied with how this story turned out, mainly because I’ve written a ton of “plague destroys or almost destroys humanity” previously, but this tale is based on science fact.
According to a February 18th story published by Business Insider, MRSA really was sent to ISS so that its mutations in a low gravity, moderate radiation environment could be monitored. The idea is that by watching these mutations, medical science will get a flash-forward look about how the bacteria will eventually develop here on Earth.
I also came across a February 24th article at Science Alert reporting that Komodo dragon blood might contain antimicrobial properties needed to develop drugs to counter antibiotic resistance.
I just put that information together will a lot of imagination (and this is highly fictional, so I’m sure it could never happen), created a planet-wide disaster, and cured it.