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Assessment of Programs in Space Biology and Medicine 1991 2 Science Program and Policy Issues INTRODUCTION In reviewing the numerous reports published under its auspices, the Committee on Space Biology and Medicine (CSBM) was reminded of a long- standing consensus regarding the disciplines under its purview. A continuing and major feature of the committee's various deliberations concerns the manner in which NASA "does business" in the general area of life sciences. The nature of life sciences research requires a program more analogous to that of other federal agencies that support basic life sciences research than has been the case with NASA's life sciences program to date. This is not to suggest that NASA should be reconfigured to function like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), or other relevant federal agencies. However, it has been suggested that since this type of research requires an empirical approach, a departure from those practices that have been traditionally employed in conducting NASA's space biology and medicine program may be justified and could prove more efficient for reaching its long-term goals. The Goldberg Strategy contained several recommendations concerned with a number of science program and policy issues. Because of the perceived significance of these recommendations, they are discussed at the beginning of this evaluation. MAJOR RECOMMENDATIONS Science Program Issues Space biology and medicine are dynamic sciences, continually evolving, sometimes quite rapidly, as new results and technological developments occur.
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Hence, the Goldberg Strategy. recommended that standing panels of 5 to 10 qualified scientists be created to review, update, and refine the research strategy in each subdiscipline of space biology and medicine. Since the facilities and personnel available for research activities in space biology and medicine, which are under the direct auspices of NASA, are extremely limited, and recognizing the importance of ground-based research, the committee recommended that NASA increase its interaction with the academic community. As the design of experiments in space biology and medicine requires continuous access to space as well as the necessity for manned intervention, the Goldberg Strategy contained two major recommendations relative to the projected use of the Space Station. Specifically, the committee suggested that: (a) there be a dedicated life sciences laboratory on the Space Station, i.e., research space on individual modules should not be shared with other disciplines, and (b) that space biology and medicine research time on the Space Station be allocated in 3- to 6-month increments, with each block devoted to a single research area such as neurovestibular research. Related to this, two or more payload specialists on each flight should be practicing laboratory scientists in the particular research areas assigned blocks of time on Space Station. Recognizing the need for controlled experiments as well as the need to evaluate the role of variable gravitational forces in affecting biological processes, the Goldberg Strategy (as well as numerous NASA and non-NASA reports) recommended in the strongest possible terms the requirement for a variable force centrifuge of the largest possible dimensions in any facility designed to obtain data on the role of microgravity in affecting biological processes. Variable Force Centrifuge (VFC). Such a device is the single most important facility in any life sciences program. A VFC has three equally important functions. (1) It provides an on-board 1-g control that can separate the influence of weightlessness from the other effects of spaceflight. (2) Microgravity has both short-term and long-term effects on biological systems. Both kinds of effects involve important biological phenomena. Their study is greatly facilitated by a VFC, which allows exposure to microgravity or to gravitational forces for varying periods of time. (3) The removal of gravitational forces is already known to have major impacts on biological systems. In such cases, it is of particular importance to determine if there is a threshold force required for a response to occur and, more generally, to ascertain the dose-response relationship. A VFC offers the crucial advantage in answering these questions, since it makes possible the introduction of fractional g forces. From these comments, it can be appreciated that a VFC should increase the scientific return from space experiments by orders of magnitude. This committee has been apprised of the engineering problems involved in the inclusion of a large centrifuge in a freely floating Space Station. Nevertheless, the committee still recommends that a variable force centrifuge of the largest possible dimensions be designed, built, and included in the initial operating configuration of the Life Sciences Laboratory. A YFC is an essential
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instrument for the future of space biology and medicine. (SSB, 1987, p. 15) Finally, the committee provided several recommendations concerned with the acquisition, transmission, processing, and storage of data obtained from space. Specifically, it was recommended that dedicated microcomputers and communications capabilities be used for process control, data storage, or both, and that rapid communication in real time with ground based research teams be a goal. Science Policy Issues Because of the extremely limited access to space, the Goldberg Strategy recommended that any Announcements of Opportunity (AOs) or NASA Research Announcements (NRAs) concerned with Shuttle flight or Space Station should be targeted to a particular subdiscipline and should state explicitly the major research questions that the mission is intended to address. While the responsibility for a coordinated program in space biology and medicine clearly rests with NASA, the facilities and personnel in NASA are insufficient to undertake the research necessary to address the biological problems associated with the effects of microgravity on biological processes. For this reason, the CSBM has strongly and repeatedly recommended that NASA solicit the participation of other relevant federal agencies. These include NIH, NSF, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), among others. Finally, considering the expense and commitment of resources to research in space biology and medicine, the committee recommended that cooperation between international partners be explored to the fullest extent in undertaking the requisite research strategies required for a sustained human presence in space. This approach is particularly relevant with respect to our foreign partners as design and development of Space Station Freedom proceed. PROGRESS A number of the recommendations outlined in the 1979, 1987, and 1988 reports cited above have been fully implemented. For example, NASA has undertaken a reorganization of its advisory structure in the area of life sciences and has created several discipline working groups along the subdiscipline lines recommended. NRAs and AOs for forthcoming missions have become more highly focused. NASA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding. (MOU) with NIH regarding research efforts in space biology and medicine and has initiated contact with NSF and the USDA. The level of cooperation with foreign partners has increased dramatically and includes not only joint efforts concerning
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utilization of Space Station Freedom but also joint missions on forthcoming Shuttle flights and possibly even sharing of data, facilities, and equipment, and flying of experiments on COSMOS with the Soviet Union. Finally, NASA is in the process of establishing Specialized Centers of Research and Training (NSCORTs) to increase the scope of its interaction with the academic community. The initial NSCORTs, to be established beginning in 1991, will be focused on gravitational biology, environmental health, and bioregenerative life support. This is an excellent approach for increasing the science community's involvement in space biology and medicine and will focus research efforts in areas critical to a long-term human presence in space. In summary, NASA, and specifically life sciences within NASA, has made a significant and noteworthy effort to implement many of the recommendations contained in CSBM reports. LACK OF PROGRESS There has been essentially no progress in addressing recommendations associated with the design and utilization of the presently planned space station. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that the recommendation for a dedicated life science laboratory has been seriously considered. Current plans call for sharing the U.S. and other lab modules between two major users, biology/medicine and microgravity (materials science) research. If this decision is final, it could significantly decrease the scientific return from Space Station utilization for both disciplines because of differing laboratory environment requirements. The recommendation that 3- to 6-month blocks of time on Space Station be assigned to specific subdisciplines of space biology and medicine is not included in current planning. Again, the potential for meaningful scientific return will be seriously diminished if current plans proceed. Finally, while virtually every internal and external life sciences advisory group over the last 20 years has emphasized the critical need for a VFC in space, this facility continues to be the subject of debate. In fairness, the debate has not been so much at the level of NASA as in the Congress. There appears to be a major asynchrony between the research time that will be available on the station to solve the concerns associated with human adaptation to a microgravity environment and national goals and timetables associated with human exploration. In terms of the broad issues associated with data management, it is imperative that the "user community" be involved in the design and utilization of the appropriate hardware and software. It has become clear that NASA does not have a central data base with all results from previous flights relevant to space biology and medicine. Similarly, a central data base does not exist on the results obtained from ground-based experiments relevant to the various subdisciplines. Individual investigators currently have no way to search archives for the literature on space biology and medicine. This is especially serious since much of the data
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which do exist have not been published in the open literature; they exist solely in NASA technical bulletins and the like. This practice opens the possibility that, among other things, the design of new experiments can become needlessly repetitive. There is some indication that NASA is aware of this critical deficiency and is planning steps to resolve the problem. We believe it essential to do so.