Research-Grade Observations From the International Space Station

Look at this article from (and photo). So we know there are uncultivated organisms up there. What’s the iNaturalist framework for low-orbit location data? (Would that prevent it from hitting research grade if some astronaut submitted something identifiable?) And who can pull some strings to make this happen? Surely somebody knows somebody who knows somebody, who could/should be…the first person on iNaturalist to submit an observation located in outer space! Yes?


It would be nice, but location, location, location…


They’d just need to know their position above the earth when the photograph was taken. Then add altitude in the notes. They evidently use GPS on the space station. So this should be straightforward.

From there, the problem would be identical to that of reporting an insect inside your car on a trip. It’s current location isn’t the same as where it started. In any event, the location of the mold isn’t important beyond it being up in orbit. So in the end, it doesn’t matter.

[edit added later: it does make sense to consider the organisms captive]


To me, any and all life on the ISS is captive, not wild. Nothing would be living in that location but for the efforts and protective structures of humans. Not everything may have arrived there intentionally, but everything survives there intentionally, and is still captive in my view.


Yeah, it’s fun to think about but it’s not what iNat’s for.


How is it different from a cockroach living indoors in a cold climate, then?


Just report the location where the space station was at the time. No point in figuring out where the spores originated from. They wouldn’t be captive, but I think they would qualify for the Never Home Alone project. :p


It had the opportunity to arrive unassisted, and has the potential to seek alternate shelter if something happens to the building. Not so with the ISS.


I disagree that the position of a spacecraft in orbit has anything to do with a point on the earth’s surface. Have you ever seen a satellite go by? They cross the entire visible sky in a couple seconds.

This is outside the scope of iNaturalist – unless we want to make “low earth orbit” a location in itself, independent of map coordinates.


This is an interesting philosophical take! I’m not stridently arguing here (and definitely not picking a fight with iNaturalist staff :slightly_smiling_face:) - practically, it’s certainly near the bottom of important things, and I’m definitely no more qualified than anybody else to decide! But I think there’s a decent argument it is kind of what iNaturalist is for.

Arguably, such observations could: (1) “connect people to nature and advance biodiversity science” (iNat’s mission); and (2) assist in creating “a world where everyone can understand and sustain biodiversity through the practice of observing wild organisms and sharing information about them” (iNat’s vision). Of course, a lot of things unrelated to iNaturalist could do that, too.

But such observations could also “help you identify plants and animals around you while generating data for science,” and would be “crowdsourced species identification” - and really, a fair bit of the stuff discussed on iNaturalist’s “about” page. At a minimum, it’d really be no different than any specialized, say, fungi expert submitting observations along with DNA codes or whatever.

I’m not saying space-based observations are the focus of iNaturalist (haha), but an open-minded, flexible interpretation of “what iNaturalist is for” across multiple topics could have some benefit! Just my two cents, though (and I’m not accusing anybody of closed-mindedness)! I’m glad this is generating some interesting (at least to me :slightly_smiling_face:) thoughts!


It’s fun to try applying iNaturalist’s captive/cultivated guidelines to hypothetical International Space Station observations - I just assumed “uncultivated” when I posted.

Is mold growing inside the ISS where exercise clothing was hung to dry (like in the article) “existing in the time and place it was observed because humans intended it to be then and there”? I’m with @raymie on this one - I don’t think it’s any different “from a cockroach living indoors in a cold climate” (as @raymie puts it), or any other similar examples.

On the bright side, we can refrain from fisticuffs until we get an actual I.S.S. observation. :grin:


iNat’s official definition of captive vs wild reads as follows:

“Checking captive / cultivated means that the observation is of an organism that exists in the time and place it was observed because humans intended it to be then and there. Likewise, wild / naturalized organisms exist in particular times and places because of other reasons (e.g. members of native or established non-native populations or released/escaped pets, hitch-hikers, or vagrants). The main reason we try to mark things like this is because iNat is primarily about observing wild organisms, not pets, animals in zoos, garden plants, specimens in drawers, etc., and many scientific data partners are often not interested in observations of captive or cultivated organisms.”

Note that hitchhikers are explicitly included and that it says nothing about the organisms being able to survive unassisted.

Besides, the article above is about how mold can survive well in space.


When molds in the ISS are “wild”, then any exotic microorganism in your home aquarium that you unintentionally imported when buying exotic fish, or parasitic worms in a zoo elephant, would also be wild. For me, both are captive as they are entirely disconnected from the natural world.

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I don’t see anywhere that iNat requires an organism to arrive unassisted to be considered wild. Black mould isn’t growing on the ISS because people want it to. It is just another one of those organisms that follow us everywhere. There are many other non-human organisms on the ISS. Some are inside the humans. Some are outside. Most are ‘wild’.


That definition is not at all consistent with the definition we are supposed to apply when evaluating iNat observations. Using our official definition, all of the examples here would clearly be wild.

Also, how is a parasite living on an elephant outdoors “entirely disconnected from the natural world”?


I now really, really hope there is an iNat user on the ISS. If you are up there post a photo!


I’d think the location would be from the launch site not over the middle of the ocean or something.


Well, think about the intention behind “wild” and “cultivated”. We do this to learn about the natural world; for example, to map the distribution of a species in time and space. A biologist making a distribution map of a parasitic elephant worm is simply not interested in captive individuals in zoos around the world. Just because Inat’s definition of “wild” does not explicitly exclude some edge cases does not make them “wild”; we have to apply common sense.

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It does. Explicitly. If the organism is there by human intent//care it is captive. If it is there without human intent it is wild.


The edge cases you are referring to are explicitly included as wild though!

And if I was researching elephant parasites, I would be really interested to know in what regions captive elephants suffer from them and in what regions captive elephants don’t.