unexplored issues whose nature can best be illustrated by the question, How, and by whom, is the decision to be made that we have acquired the necessary relevant medical, scientific, and technological knowledge needed before we actually send humans to Mars? No single decadal survey or combination of surveys provides the type of advice needed for the new programs that are anticipated under the new vision for exploration. Also, no single scientific or engineering discipline can provide the expertise and knowledge necessary to optimally solve these problems. Therefore, a reexamination of the decadal surveys would not provide ideal guidance for enabling science. Instead, crosscutting advice needs to come from cross-disciplinary groups of experts representing diverse scientific fields rather than from the traditional single-discipline survey committees.
Such crosscutting studies will identify fundamental, problem-oriented research in a number of key areas of enabling science. For example, understanding and mitigating the deleterious effects of space radiation on both astronauts and operational systems is a complex, multifaceted problem. Progress in countering the harmful effects of different space radiation environments will have to draw on advances in solar and space physics, radiation monitoring, risk assessment, materials science, biomedical science, medical systems engineering, space systems design, and more; it also may be facilitated by the use of robotic “guinea pigs” rather than human subjects. A piecemeal approach to planning research and setting priorities under the guidance of individual scientific disciplines is unlikely to produce robust, reliable solutions.
Other examples of crosscutting problems for which interdisciplinary planning will be appropriate are the assessment of measures needed to counter the physiological effects of partial gravity on humans in spaceflight, techniques for life detection on planetary bodies, approaches to prevent and/or control the cross-contamination of Mars by human missions, and the design of self-sustained habitats. This list is not meant to be definitive or all-inclusive, but rather to illustrate the point. Importantly, these interdisciplinary challenges, by definition, encompass more than one of NASA’s new 13 roadmap areas (see Chapter 2), and so NASA will have to take special care to foster and advance these efforts.
Finally, all enabling science, regardless of whether the topics fall within a particular disciplinary area or are broadly crosscutting, should be evaluated and planned with the same scientific rigor, openness, and thoughtful prioritization that have characterized the decadal surveys, and should be executed according to a process that provides for incremental successes to sustain momentum, use resources efficiently, enforce priorities, and enable future breakthroughs. In many cases, paralleling the decadal-survey approach in which the users of information participate in setting priorities for obtaining it, it would be appropriate to have representatives of organizations that put forward operational requirements and/or will have to deliver operational systems participate in the evaluation of enabling science.
Therefore the committee recommends that NASA identify scientific and technical areas critical to enabling the human exploration program and that it move quickly to give those areas careful attention in a process that emphasizes crosscutting reviews to reflect their interdisciplinary scope, generates rigorous priority setting like that achieved in the decadal science surveys, and utilizes input from a broad range of expertise in the scientific and technical community.