2
Readiness to Utilize the International Space Station

READINESS OF THE CURRENT SCIENCE COMMUNITY

The first charge to the task group carrying out this study was to “conduct an assessment of the readiness of the U.S. scientific community to use the ISS for life and microgravity research….” The task group defined “readiness” from the perspective of the principal investigator (PI).1 That is, it asked, is the PI ready, willing, and able to utilize the ISS when it is completed with the scientific capabilities commensurate with the needs of the research program in biological and physical sciences? There are various components of readiness for the scientific community, including the intellectual preparedness of both established PIs and young investigators, experimental paradigms that have undergone preliminary evaluation in ground-based research, and a queue of well-conceived and feasible experiments that require the longer-term exposure to microgravity offered by the ISS.

The readiness of the scientific community was evaluated on the basis of program information provided in briefings by NASA personnel, written answers from NASA in response to questions developed by the task group, and informal interviews of the chairs of the Discipline Working Groups (advisory committees of academic and industrial scientists who represent the interests of the research communities that utilize NASA’s microgravity research platforms). The program information reviewed by the task group included data on proposals submitted and funded under various NASA Research Announcements since 1996, current and estimated future levels of grant funding, the date of the last experiment flown in each discipline, estimated numbers of scientific and commercial investigations in each discipline that will be flown in the next several years, and funding levels for student programs.

The task group confirmed that there is a cadre of scientists capable of carrying out flight experiments in all the disciplines examined; most of these individuals have been supported in part by NASA for a number of years. In FY 2001 about 990 investigations are being funded by NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR), with some 18 percent of them in the flight program and the rest currently in the ground-based program. The total level of funding for these grants is approximately $154 million.2 Many disciplines have recruited high-quality investigators into the program and have an active, albeit small, graduate student group participating in these planned experiments. A larger group of graduate students and postgraduate fellows are involved in ground-based microgravity research. For

1  

Each experiment selected for flight was originally proposed by an investigator who is responsible for its development and the analysis of its results.

2  

This number does not include flight hardware development costs.



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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station 2 Readiness to Utilize the International Space Station READINESS OF THE CURRENT SCIENCE COMMUNITY The first charge to the task group carrying out this study was to “conduct an assessment of the readiness of the U.S. scientific community to use the ISS for life and microgravity research….” The task group defined “readiness” from the perspective of the principal investigator (PI).1 That is, it asked, is the PI ready, willing, and able to utilize the ISS when it is completed with the scientific capabilities commensurate with the needs of the research program in biological and physical sciences? There are various components of readiness for the scientific community, including the intellectual preparedness of both established PIs and young investigators, experimental paradigms that have undergone preliminary evaluation in ground-based research, and a queue of well-conceived and feasible experiments that require the longer-term exposure to microgravity offered by the ISS. The readiness of the scientific community was evaluated on the basis of program information provided in briefings by NASA personnel, written answers from NASA in response to questions developed by the task group, and informal interviews of the chairs of the Discipline Working Groups (advisory committees of academic and industrial scientists who represent the interests of the research communities that utilize NASA’s microgravity research platforms). The program information reviewed by the task group included data on proposals submitted and funded under various NASA Research Announcements since 1996, current and estimated future levels of grant funding, the date of the last experiment flown in each discipline, estimated numbers of scientific and commercial investigations in each discipline that will be flown in the next several years, and funding levels for student programs. The task group confirmed that there is a cadre of scientists capable of carrying out flight experiments in all the disciplines examined; most of these individuals have been supported in part by NASA for a number of years. In FY 2001 about 990 investigations are being funded by NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR), with some 18 percent of them in the flight program and the rest currently in the ground-based program. The total level of funding for these grants is approximately $154 million.2 Many disciplines have recruited high-quality investigators into the program and have an active, albeit small, graduate student group participating in these planned experiments. A larger group of graduate students and postgraduate fellows are involved in ground-based microgravity research. For 1   Each experiment selected for flight was originally proposed by an investigator who is responsible for its development and the analysis of its results. 2   This number does not include flight hardware development costs.

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station instance, in the life sciences alone, more than 580 graduate students and postdoctoral associates were receiving some level of support through OBPR grants in FY 2000. Evidence of significant contributions from investigators in many areas of research in the microgravity environment was noted. The contributions included a more fundamental understanding of convection and solidification, diffusion processes and liquid-phase sintering, critical differences in fire sensing and control in microgravity, and development of tissue-engineered artificial bone and cartilage matrices. In FY 2000 alone there were over 1600 articles printed in peer reviewed publications by OBPR-funded investigators and another 174 books or book chapters3 based on OBPR-funded work. Future research that could be optimally performed on the ISS includes experiments from all disciplines. A few examples (noninclusive) are as follows: Effect of long-term exposure to microgravity on various aspects of physiology and human behavior—for example, Bone and muscle loss and evaluation of therapies to prevent these losses; Immunological responses in animals and humans; Development of the vestibular system in animal models such as rodents; and Neurovestibular function and development. Studies on the effects of microgravity on physical phenomena, such as the following: Extension of the study of critical-point phenomena; Study of interfacial dynamics affecting crystal growth and liquid-phase sintering; and Determination of fundamental limits and parameters of combustion phenomena, as well as development and validation of techniques for fire sensing and control in microgravity. Readiness is also attested to by the long list of experiments that have already been peer reviewed and approved for flight. In recent years the overall success rate of research proposals submitted to OBPR has averaged about 20 percent, with about one in seven of the successful proposals selected for the flight program. As shown in Tables 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, there is a sizable group of selected flight experiments in all disciplines for ISS. There was general agreement across disciplines that there are fundamental scientific insights to be gained by doing these experiments in the prolonged microgravity environment on the ISS. In addition to allowing assessment of potentially cumulative effects of exposure to microgravity, this environment would also allow iterative modifications of experimental parameters in an efficient and timely manner. 3   According to the FY 2000 Life Sciences Program Tasks and Bibliography and the Physical Sciences Research Division Program Tasks and Bibliography, NASA, Washington, D.C.

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station TABLE 2.1 Flight Investigations Plan for Physical Sciences   Planned Flight Investigations to Orbit   Discipline FY01 FY02 FY03 FY04 FY05 FY06 Total No. of Selected Flight Research Investigations Currently in the Programa Fluid physics 1 1 1 2 5 8 33 Combustion science 1 2 0 2 2 5 16 Materials science 0 1 1 4 10 13 19 Biotechnology 9 15 18 15 18 12 6 Fundamental physics 0 0 0 0 1 4 12 NOTE: Flight experiments are approved through a peer review process that includes consideration of the need for flight. aAs flight investigations mature and pass their science concept review, they are assigned to a flight opportunity. Flight opportunities depend on funding, hardware, and mission availability. SOURCE: NASA. TABLE 2.2 Flight Investigations Plan for Biomedical Research and Countermeasures   FY01 FY02 FY03 FY04 FY05 FY06 Total Flight Projects in Programa Total selected for flight 0 11 6 4 0 0 Physiology   6 1 1     21 Behavior and performance   2 3 1     3 Radiation/environmental health   2 1 1     4 Clinical and operational medicine   1 1 1     8 NOTE: Includes ISLSWG experiments under NASA management. Experiments conducted over several years are counted in each year. NASA Research Announcement to be released in May 2001 will target research in musculoskeletal physiology, behavior and performance, and clinical/operational medicine; will be flown in the 2004–2006 time frame. Flight experiments are approved through a peer review process that includes consideration of the need for flight. aData in this column taken from Life Sciences Program Tasks and Bibliography for FY 2000. SOURCE: NASA.

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station TABLE 2.3 Flight Investigations Plan for Fundamental Space Biology   FY01 FY02 FY03a FY04a FY05a FY06a Total Flight Projects in Programb Total selected for flight 2 6 4 1   Molecular structure and physical interactions   Cellular and molecular biology   1 2 1     11 Developmental biology 2 1 1       11 Organismal and comparative biology   4 1       11 Gravitational ecologyc   Evolutionary biologyd   NOTE: Flight experiments are approved through a peer review process that includes consideration of the need for flight. aSolicitation for experiments in this time frame released May 2001. bData in column taken from Life Sciences Program Tasks and Bibliography for FY 2000. cArea not listed separately in Life Sciences Program Tasks and Bibliography for FY 2000. dNot solicited for flight. SOURCE: NASA. SUSTAINABILITY OF READINESS The current readiness of the scientific community to utilize the ISS, as discussed above, does not ensure readiness when the ISS is finally assembled and outfitted for scientific research. Based on the task group’s own experience with OBPR research programs and numerous discussions with members of the research community, it is the task group’s observation that readiness is beginning to deteriorate, and that it will continue to erode with further delays in the date of completion for the ISS. This is an opinion widely shared in the ISS user community (Sekerka, 2001; Fettman, 2001). Sustaining readiness, which is necessary to ensure full utilization of the scientific capabilities of the ISS, requires: Stable and adequate funding in each scientific area; Consistent and continued support of ground-based research; Regularly scheduled, reliable flight opportunities in the period leading up to availability of the ISS; and Confidence that the ISS with full research capability (as in Rev. F) will be available for experiments by the end of the decade. Stable and adequate funding is necessary to retain the participation of top-level scientists in planning and research activities. If this does not occur they will abandon NASA for other research opportunities. In fact, some investigators stated that due to the inconsistency and uncertainty in the NASA science program, they have already reduced their participation to a part-time, hobby-like level. They have focused their research in other areas in order to maintain scientific credibility and career viability. Stable support is also required so that young investigators and graduate students consider space-based research a viable career opportunity. If ISS budgetary problems force new cuts in research funding, the cuts would

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station have a major impact on the overall science program and would be a huge disincentive for the future involvement of many researchers. It would become even harder to attract to the field new investigators, who provide the sustaining expertise for the microgravity program and without whom the program, and therefore the ISS, will have little or no scientific future or value. A strong ground-based research program provides the foundation for defining new concepts and developing techniques and for competitive selection of those experiments best suited for flight. Consistent and continued support for ground-based research is required at a level that ensures that the best science will be ready for flight and that new PIs and projects enter the program. NASA data show a ratio of about five ground investigations for every flight investigation. The task group’s assessment is that this is the minimum ratio required to sustain a high-quality research program. Scheduled and reliable flight opportunities provide investigators with continuity in their research activities and enable them to allocate resources and maintain interest through consistent progress in space-based research. Disruptions in these schedules increase the costs that must be borne by the research program, thereby limiting new research opportunities. For example, for microgravity research shuttle flight STS-107, originally scheduled to occur in late 1999, the SPACEHAB carrier lease delay penalty cost due to the launch slip to April 2002 has been $25.5 million, or $1.5 million per month (see NAPA report in Appendix A). Flight experiments also need to be carried out in a timely manner. If there are significant delays in flight opportunities, then the new techniques and equipment that become available for ground-based research will have to be evaluated and flight-qualified if they are to be used in space. It has taken many years to establish a competitively reviewed, science-based program with the participation of leading researchers who have identified critical problems and experiments. Delays in flight opportunities are already causing these researchers to reduce their commitment to space-based research. Further delays will exacerbate the situation, causing many investigators to abandon space research entirely. Were this to occur, it would take years to recover to even the present state. While relatively little detailed information is available on potential commercial users for ISS research capabilities, it is expected that long and uncertain delays in flight opportunities would also present serious impediments to industry research. In 1998 the Committee on Space Biology and Medicine (NRC, 1998, p. 241) stated as follows: Issues relating to the design and utilization of the ISS are a major concern…. Repeated changes in the design of the ISS and the diversion of funds intended for scientific facilities and equipment into construction budgets have provoked alarm among the life sciences user community. Construction of the variable force centrifuge, essential for controlled life sciences experiments, has been substantially delayed [and cost overruns and delays seem likely for other research facilities]…. Issues relating to the adequacy of power, data transmission to and from Earth, and availability of crew time for research are also matters of significant concern. The task group confirmed that the interest and participation of the scientific community are being adversely affected as the ISS continues to lose planned microgravity research capabilities (as dramatically illustrated by the proposed Rev. G facility delivery plan, shown in Figure 2.1 and Table 2.4). Industry investigators would be expected to have similar concerns regarding ISS capabilities. If a credible scientific program is to be realized, it is crucial to have confidence that the ISS, as originally planned and based on carefully assessed need, will be available for experiments. Experiments require adequate facilities, crew time, and electrical power. The proposed downsizing of the ISS (specifically, the elimination of the habitation module and the solar array, and the downsizing of the return vehicle) will substantially affect its ability to perform scientific research. NASA estimates that at least 2.5 crew members are required to maintain and operate the ISS exclusive of any science-related duties. Reducing the crew from six to three, as recently proposed, will severely limit the nature and extent of experiments that can be performed aboard the ISS, because many experiments require a substantial level of human participation as operators or subjects or both. This potential reduction in capability in and of itself would

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station deal a crippling blow to NASA’s stated goal of creating a world-class laboratory in space. The proposed elimination of a solar array (producing 37 kW) will significantly reduce the power available for experiments, complicating the conduct of simultaneous experiments and perhaps precluding experiments requiring high power levels (e.g., furnace-based experiments and those involving the centrifuge). The variable-force centrifuge continues to be essential for controlled life sciences experiments; its indefinite delay or elimination would seriously hinder scientific studies in areas such as fundamental biology. The task group recognizes that as NASA finalizes its plans for the ISS in response to its latest budget difficulties, there will be a need to determine which projects in the flight queue are still viable. The impact of such decisions is unclear, as NASA was unable to give the task group the relative research priorities across scientific disciplines. The task group concludes that these priorities need to be immediately articulated, so that current restructuring of the ISS research program can be completed in a well-informed manner that is consistent with NASA’s stated program goals. FIGURE 2.1 Change in delivery schedule for U.S. experiment facilities and support equipment between the baseline (Rev. F) and the FY 2002 PBS (proposed Rev. G). SOURCE: Kathie Olsen, Acting Associate Administrator, presentation at NASA Headquarters to the Biological and Physical Research Advisory Committee on June 14, 2001. See Appendix C for definitions of the acronyms appearing on the time lines.

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station TABLE 2.4 Rack Comparison Baseline (Rev. F) Versus FY 2002 PBS (Proposed Rev. G)   Baseline, 27 Racksa FY 2002 PBS, 18 Racksb √c Human research facility Human research facility √c EXPRESS rack 1 EXPRESS rack 1 √c EXPRESS rack 2 EXPRESS rack 2   EXPRESS rack 3 EXPRESS rack 3   EXPRESS rack 4 EXPRESS rack 4   EXPRESS rack 5 EXPRESS rack 5 IPd Microgravity science glovebox Microgravity science glovebox   Window observational facility Window observational facility   Human research facility 2 Human research facility 2   EXPRESS rack 6 EXPRESS rack 6   Habitat holding rack 1 Habitat holding rack 1   Fluids and combustion facility 1 Fluids and combustion facility 1 IPd Life sciences glovebox Life sciences glovebox   EXPRESS rack 7 EXPRESS rack 7   Habitat holding rack 2 Habitat holding rack 2   Fluids and combustion facility 2 Fluids and combustion facility 2   EXPRESS rack 8 EXPRESS rack 8   Fluids and combustion facility 3 Fluids and combustion facility 3   Materials science research facility 2 Materials science research facility 2   Materials science research facility 3 Materials science research facility 3   Commercial materials Commercial materials   Biotechnology facility Biotechnology facility   X-ray diffraction system X ray diffraction system   Advanced human support technology Advanced human support technology lPd Minus-eighty-degree freezer Minus-eighty-degree freezer lPd Cryo-freezer Cryo-freezer aBased on Rev. F assembly sequence and 1/8/01 MPOM. bRacks shown with a strike-out line are not in the current budget guidelines and would be eliminated under Proposed Rev. G. Note that the remaining fluids and combustion rack facility in the second column is actually a fluids research facility (fluids integrated rack). c√ On-orbit. dInternational partner (IP) provides rack (the materials science research facility is partially IP-provided). SOURCE: Kathie Olsen, Acting Associate Administrator, presentation at NASA Headquarters to the Biological and Physical Research Advisory Committee on June 14, 2001.

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Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station CONCLUSION Based on analyses of the available information, the task group concluded as follows: The U.S. scientific community is currently ready to use the ISS for life and microgravity research. However, a number of factors, particularly the reduction in crew size to three astronauts, appear to put the sustainability of this readiness in serious jeopardy. REFERENCES Fettman, Martin J. 2001. Letter to Joel Rothenberg on funding for the Space Station Biological Research Project , Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. March 9. Photocopy. National Research Council (NRC), Space Studies Board. 1998. A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the New Century. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Sekerka, Robert F. 2001. Letter to the Honorable Barbara A.Mikulski on the level of ISS research funding. Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Physics. June 27. Photocopy.