Your home is basically the same thing as the International Space Station — scientists have found that the microbe families living up there in orbit are somewhat similar to what resides down here on Earth’s surface.

The connection comes from a community project in which people sent in swabs from inside their homes and then researchers compared the microorganisms from those samples to swabs taken aboard the ISS. They also compared the microbes to the ones found living on the human body. According to their study, published in the journal PeerJ, the tiny communities on the ISS are “significantly different” from both other groups but are more similar to the ones living in our homes than they are to the ones that thrive on our bodies.

In all, they were able to identify more than 12,500 different species of microbes on the space station.

“As humans expand their reach into the solar system, with renewed interest in space travel, and with the possibility of the colonization of other planets and moons, it is of critical importance to understand the microbial ecology of the built environments being utilized for such endeavors,” the study noted. “We know that the microbial communities found in our terrestrial built environments play an important role in human health. Therefore it is crucial to characterize and understand the microbial population of the only environment in which people are currently living and working in space.”

space-station-earth The International Space Station is home to thousands of microbe species and a few astronauts. Photo: NASA/MSFC

The microbes in the space station are carried up there on the bodies of the astronauts sent to live in orbit and on the different supplies and pieces of equipment that are blasted up to the ISS.

“So ‘is it gross?’ and 'will you see microbes from space?’ are probably the two most common questions we get about this work,” UC Davis microbiologist David Coil said in a report from the journal. “As to the first, we are completely surrounded by mostly harmless microbes on Earth, and we see a broadly similar microbial community on the ISS. So it is probably no more or less gross than your living room.”

According to the researchers, the microbe community looked healthy. They referred to the groups on different surfaces within the ISS as “species-rich.”

“The microbiome on the surfaces on the ISS looks very much like the surfaces of its inhabitants, which is not surprising, given that they are the primary source,” lead study author Jenna Lang said in the report. “We were also pleased to see is that the diversity was fairly high, indicating that it did not look like a ‘sick’ microbial community.”

To some, the findings may not be as exciting as what one Russian cosmonaut is claiming Roscosmos found on the space station: alien microbes. Anton Shkaplerov recently told Russian news outlet TASS that cosmonauts had swabbed the outside of the space station and found bacteria that came from outer space. Russian scientists are apparently still investigating the microbes, although other research has shown that it’s possible for tiny organisms living in Earth’s atmosphere to be carried into space, meaning the bacteria allegedly found on the outside surface of the ISS are not necessarily aliens.