The experiment which took place during the Foton mission was called ‘Lichens’ and was one of the exobiology experiments that was located in the ESA Biopan facility. This exposure facility was located on the outer shell of the Foton return module and, once at the correct orbital altitude, opened to exposure the samples inside to open space, i.e. exposed to vacuum, wide fluctuations of temperature, the complete spectrum of solar UV light and bombarded with cosmic radiation. During the Foton-M2 mission, which was launched into low-Earth orbit on 31 May 2005, the lichens, which came from two different species (Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans) were exposed for a total 14.6 days before being returned to Earth. At the conclusion of the mission the lid of Biopan was closed to protect the lichens from the conditions of reentry. The Biopan was thereafter transported back to ESA ‘s research facility, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands to be opened.
The results of the experiment were presented by one of the experiment team members, Dr. Rosa de la Torre from the Spanish Aerospace Research Establishment (INTA) in Madrid, at a post-flight review in October at ESTEC. Initial conclusions of the experiment, which is under the scientific leadership of Prof. Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, indicate that lichens have the capacity to resist full exposure to the harsh space conditions, especially high levels of UV radiation. Analysis post flight showed a full rate of survival and an unchanged ability for photosynthesis.