The agency’s standard-setting process has resulted in an initial set of space flight health standards (NASA, 2006a).
The committee began its assessment of the standards-setting process by specifying the principles that the members deem to be the hallmarks of an exemplary deliberative process:
evidence-based: Policy decisions are based on the best available evidence and can stand up to scientific scrutiny.
open and transparent: All interested and affected parties have opportunities for meaningful participation, including opportunities to review and comment on draft or proposed health standards.
well documented: A written record that includes all proceedings, communications, and documents that are a part of the decision-making process is created and preserved. Linkages between evidence and the decisions that are based on that evidence are explicit, along with quantification of uncertainty when the evidence is not definitive.
well informed: Decision makers make their policy choices on the basis of all available input. Policy decisions are rationally related to the facts on record and explained, including responses to any written comments from reviewers.
dynamic: There are mechanisms for updating, revising, adding, or deleting standards as evidence and circumstances evolve over time. Updating is done both in response to new relevant findings and as part of calendar-based review cycles.
The committee’s overall assessment is that the initial space flight health standards (NASA, 2006a) represent a diligent and well-reasoned effort. The approach uses an occupational health model recommended in Safe Passage (IOM, 2001a) and provides an analytical framework for enhancing the safety of human space flight. NASA staff are thinking proactively about a range of potential health risks, some of which might result from exposures that are unique to space (e.g., galactic cosmic radiation, lunar dust) and others that are somewhat similar to exposures and experiences faced in similar environments (e.g., nonionizing radiation, confined spaces, prolonged isolation). The committee throughout this report notes opportunities for improvement to the standards setting process and makes recommendations for strengthening the process.
The initial space flight health standards—along with the more detailed program and project-level requirements—set the operational criteria for protecting human health for crew members while in flight. Refining those criteria and relating them to the type and duration of each mission is an inherent strength of the iterative and ongoing nature of the standards-setting process. This tiered approach allows NASA to address hazards common to all missions while also taking into account the challenges and issues relevant to longer duration, more distant, and more complex missions. Updates to the knowledge base are used to refine the standards.
NASA’s recently constituted independent technical authorities in three areas (health and medical, engineering, and safety and mission assurance) are significant assets in overcoming barriers to communication and effective decision-making that can occur in a large, complex, and geographically dispersed organization such as NASA. Their active participation in the ongoing process can be expected to contribute to enhanced human health and safety during space flight.
As recommended by the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB, 2003) and outlined in the recent IOM report on the bioastronautics roadmap (IOM, 2006), these three independent technical authorities report directly to the NASA administrator and are independent of program funding and project management. With responsibilities for oversight of standards and technical requirements, these independent technical authorities provide the checks and balances that are needed to ensure that the mis-