Apollo 18: Contagion on the Moon?

The movie Apollo 18, a sci-fi movie that portrays a horrific mission to the moon, addresses some important microbiological and infectious disease matters (albeit in a highly fictionalized manner). In the film, astronauts on a moon mission are infected/infested by an extraterrestrial pathogen.

The scenario of a contagious disease in space raises very difficult questions, some of which have been the subject of actual prior work in this field. Some fascinating questions include:

  • Does being in space where sterilized food is consumed change one's microbiome to render one hypersusceptible to infection (either extraterrestrial or upon return to Earth)? The historical answers to this question and the possibility of astronauts being at a risk from a "fatal kiss" are discussed in the book Good Germs, Bad Germs.
  • What would be the concept of operations in an extraterresterial infection (see Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain)?
  • How does one handle a potentially contagious illness in an astronaut in space? 
  • Is there bacterial life on other planets, asteroids, etc? Would they resemble earthly extremophile bacteria?

While movies such as this are pure fiction, they do serve to focus attention on the ubiquity of microbes and their ability to infect us in myriad scenarios.