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Astrobiology. 2011 Apr;11(3):213-23. doi: 10.1089/ast.2010.0502. Epub 2011 Mar 18.

Determination of lethality rate constants and D-values for heat-resistant Bacillus spores ATCC 29669 exposed to dry heat from 125°C to 200°C.

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Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 91109, USA.


Exposing flight hardware to dry heat is a NASA-approved sterilization method for reducing microbial bioburden on spacecraft. The existing NASA specification only allows heating the flight hardware between 104°C and 125°C to reduce the number of viable microbes and bacterial spores. Also, the NASA specifications only allow a four log reduction by dry heat microbial reduction because very heat-resistant spores are presumed to exist in a diverse population (0.1%). The goal of this research was to obtain data at higher temperatures than 125°C for one of the most heat-resistant microorganisms discovered in a spacecraft assembly area. These data support expanding the NASA specifications to temperatures higher than 125°C and relaxing the four log reduction specification. Small stainless steel vessels with spores of the Bacillus strain ATCC 29669 were exposed to constant temperatures between 125°C and 200°C under both dry and ambient room humidity for set time durations. After exposures, the thermal spore exposure vessels were cooled and the remaining spores recovered and plated out. Survivor ratios, lethality rate constants, and D-values were determined at each temperature. The D-values for the spores exposed under dry humidity conditions were always found to be shorter than those under ambient humidity. The temperature dependence of the lethality rate constants was obtained by assuming that they obeyed Arrhenius behavior. The results are compared to those of B. atrophaeus ATCC 9372. In all cases, the D-values of ATCC 29669 are between 20 and 50 times longer than those of B. atrophaeus ATCC 9372.

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