When microbiologist Monserrate (Monsi) Roman came to
the United States from Puerto Rico, she never dreamed she’d
be a scientist working to ensure safe water and air for the
crew of the International Space Station, the world’s largest
space laboratory.

As a microbiologist, Roman studies microbes, living
organisms including viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites,
which are only visible under a microscope. Microbes are
everywhere, but most are harmless, and many do useful jobs
like help us digest food.

“My job is to be a detective, to determine how microbes will
behave under different situations and in different
locations, such as the nooks and crannies of the Space
Station,” explained Roman, chief microbiologist for the
Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS)
project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
Huntsville, Ala.

Everyone who visits the Station comes with his or her own
unique set of microbes. And since crewmembers, visitors,
experiments and hardware hail from 15 Station partner
countries, Roman must study an international, multicultural
group of the microbes. She often collaborates with
scientists and engineers from other countries.

“Microbes were the first inhabitants of the Space Station
hitchhiking into orbit on equipment before people ever
arrived,” Roman said. “Each microbe is unique, and if left
unchecked, some will thrive and could eventually eat many

The Station was designed with materials that are microbe-
resistant. Temperature and humidity are controlled to
discourage microbe growth. Roman helps ensure microbes
aren’t a threat by monitoring the Station’s air and water
system. She works closely with MSFC engineers who are
designing and testing the Oxygen Generation and Water
Recovery equipment, a more sophisticated air and water
recycling system to be installed on the Station. It will
dramatically reduce the amount of water supply vehicles
deliver to the Station.

Roman’s fascination with science and living organisms
blossomed when she was a child. Her science teachers
nurtured her curiosity, encouraged her to participate in
science fairs, and provided opportunities for her to work
with real scientists. Roman carries on that tradition,
helping with classes at NASA’s Challenger Learning Centers
and at the agency’s Educator Resources Center in Huntsville.
Every summer, she mentors a student who works by her side as
an intern at the MSFC.

Roman earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of
Puerto Rico, where she became so fascinated with
microbiology that she washed dishes in the lab before
finally being hired as a research assistant. She earned her
master’s degree in microbiology at the University of Alabama
in Huntsville, and joined NASA in 1989.

“As I always tell my three sons and the students I mentor:
Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t,” said Roman. “As
a little girl, I never dreamed I would be helping NASA build
part of a Space Station. It has been fascinating watching
the Station go from paper drawings to a real home and
workplace in space.”

Media organizations interested in interviewing Roman should
contact Steve Roy at:

To learn more about Roman’s work and the ECLSS project and
on the Internet, visit:


Microscopic Stowaways on the International Space Station:


Water on the Space Station:


Breathing Easy on the Space Station:


For information about NASA and the Space Station on the
Internet, visit: