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The Mission of Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA A Letter of Request from NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters Washington, DC 20546–0001 DEC 1 5 2000 Reply to Attn of: UG Dr. John McElroy Space Studies Board, HA 584 National Academy of Sciences 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20418 Dear Dr. McElroy: The NASA Microgravity Research Division underwent reorganization in October 2000. As a result, the division took on a new name, Division of Physical Sciences Research, and new responsibilities. In its new assignment, the division will extend the focus of its current programs in the physical and engineering sciences and biotechnology beyond experiments for the International Space Station, and will establish cutting edge, university-focused, interdisciplinary research efforts in the areas of nanoscience, biomolecular physics and chemistry, and exploration research. While the former microgravity division’s scope has been expanded beyond the scientific examination of gravity-related phenomena, its new role within NASA is not yet fully defined, and the additional resources available for new investigations are expected to be limited. Therefore, it would be useful for NASA to have the Space Studies Board’s guidance on the overall direction of the Division of Physical Sciences Research and on particular topics within its new breadth of responsibility. Specifically, we would ask that the Committee on Microgravity Research undertake a two-phase study. The focus of the first phase would be development of an overall unifying theme, or “mission statement,” for NASA’s program in microgravity and physical sciences within the Office of Biological and Physical Research. In the second phase the committee would assess the current status of the division’s research program, identify and define more specific topics within the new discipline areas on which the division could most profitably focus, and attempt to prioritize future research directions. In doing so, we ask that the committee consider the following four issues for each major research topic currently funded by our program: The contribution of important knowledge from microgravity research on each topic to the larger field of which the research is a part; The progress in understanding the microgravity research questions posed on each topic; The potential for further progress to be made in each area of microgravity research; and The potential for contributions of significant knowledge from continued research on each topic that will aid NASA in goals such as technology development for human exploration.
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The Mission of Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA In order to address the first two items, extensive knowledge of past and current work in microgravity will be necessary. We will ask our discipline working groups to provide to the Committee on Microgravity Research an assessment of these two questions for each discipline that the committee can evaluate in turn. We understand that the study would require approximately two years to complete from its inception. Delivery of the report on the first phase would be expected at the end of the first year and delivery of the report on the second phase report at study completion. Sincerely, Eugene Trinh, Ph.D.
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