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.
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).