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Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station 1 Introduction As detailed in the Preface, the Space Station Panel was one of several subpanels originally charged by Congress to review NASA’s strategic roadmaps for achieving the vision and goals of long-range human exploration of space. Because development of an International Space Station (ISS) roadmap (later the plan for ISS utilization) was repeatedly delayed, it became necessary to complete the panel’s activities prior to the availability of a defined ISS plan in order to meet the stringent deadline for completion of the overall study. Accordingly, the panel necessarily modified its task to focus on the following aspects of the original task: Review and evaluation of projected goals for ISS research; Development of processes by which NASA will define the roadmap and its implementation strategies, including the criteria for prioritizing overall mission objectives as well as specific programmatic elements; Review of currently available plans for completion of the ISS and restoration of a full crew size; Identification of research and technology testing for which the ISS may provide a uniquely suitable platform and consideration of the ISS-based facilities essential for such research and testing; and Identification of potential gaps in projected programs and facilities for utilization of the ISS. The panel met once, for 3 days, October 3-5, 2005, to hear presentations summarizing the development of an architecture for post-shuttle transport and life support and recent and ongoing planning activities in support of roadmap development and to draft its report. The panel was briefed on three recent, separate studies related to roadmap definition: the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) Technology Assessment, the Station/Shuttle Configuration Options Team analysis, and the Zero-Base Review of NASA’s Office of Human Systems Research and Technology’s ISS research. The three had different goals and methodologies, and the panel’s review and evaluation were based on its best understanding of how the different plans might fit together. In addition, the panel had access to a substantial number of NASA documents related to the briefings and the overall task of roadmap development. Finally, it relied heavily on previous NRC and IOM reports in evaluating projected ISS research and utilization programs (see Appendix C). PLANNED PURPOSE OF THE ISS In its presentations, NASA stated that the new objectives of the ISS utilization plan were to Develop and test technologies for exploration spacecraft systems, Develop techniques to maintain crew health and performance on missions beyond low Earth orbit, and Gain operational experience that can be applied to exploration missions.
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Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station It should be noted that these objectives represent a major shift in research goals compared to earlier versions of ISS plans. It has always been an ISS objective to study and develop countermeasures for the detrimental effects of spaceflight on astronauts. However, ISS plans had also previously included a major focus on basic research in a number of diverse fields of biological and physical sciences, with research projects directed at increasing fundamental scientific understanding as well as eventual terrestrial applications such as understanding disease or improving industrial technologies. NASA confirmed that it plans to focus future research strictly on the ISS to support human exploration goals, and this shift in emphasis is consistent with major organizational changes carried out at NASA in recent years. SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS OF THIS STUDY Certain caveats concerning the panel’s findings should be noted. The short time allotted for this study precluded any rigorous attempt to identify, assess, or prioritize the numerous kinds of in-flight research and testbed activities that may be needed to support NASA’s space exploration objectives. Thus the research areas highlighted in this report, many of which are drawn from older studies, must be considered to exemplify the ISS research that can support exploration rather than to constitute a comprehensive list of such research. In addition, the diverse materials presented to the panel indicated that NASA is still in a relatively early stage of its planning for future ISS use and operation. The many uncertainties in these plans, as well as the limited detail available at this stage, mean that in most cases the panel could draw only broad conclusions about the plans and offer general recommendations for moving forward with ISS research and operations. These conclusions and recommendations are based on the panel’s best understanding of the materials presented by NASA. It is possible that NASA planning materials exist that were not reviewed by the panel but that would appear to address some of the gaps identified in this report. However, given the rapidly changing planning landscape at NASA, it is unlikely that any such additional materials would have a high level of detail that both is based on rigorous analysis and has been validated. Thus the panel believes that most of its broad findings will remain valid and useful even as NASA develops more detailed plans for the ISS. The following chapters summarize the panel’s deliberations, conclusions, and recommendations with respect to ISS use for exploration (Chapter 2), plans for completion of ISS construction (Chapter 3), biomedical objectives supported by the ISS (Chapter 4), technology capability objectives supported by the ISS (Chapter 5), and some additional overarching issues (Chapter 6).
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