Vehicles under development by commercial suborbital companies, such as Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, and XCOR Aerospace, will likely provide scientists, university researchers, and students with a new way to access the space environment.14 The scientific community has reacted enthusiastically to the promise of these vehicles, with more than 200 scientists from around the country participating in a series of workshops with suborbital vehicle developers, a distinguished group of scientists coming together to form the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group, and a conference on next-generation suborbital research. NASA also recognized the potential of commercial suborbital spacecraft and formed the NASA Commercial Re-usable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) Program at NASA Ames Research Center.15 It is important that these types of educational networking opportunities be fostered to help catalyze research interactions among commercial developers, the scientific community, and NASA.


Currently, life and physical science endeavors focused on understanding phenomena in low-gravity environments have no clear institutional home at NASA. As determined by the decadal survey committee from its examination of the highly varied history of these programs, and as commented on in the Augustine Committee Final Report,16 administratively embedding crucial forward-looking elements such as this in larger or operationally focused organizations virtually guarantees that its resources will be swallowed up by other needs.

The discussion in this chapter has focused on the essential needs for a successful renewed research endeavor in life and physical sciences—the development of a credible agenda, the selection of the research most likely to provide value to an optimum range of future missions designs, the crucial inclusion of a translational science component to continuously build bridges between basic science and the development of new mission options, and the necessity of encouraging and then accommodating team science approaches to what are inherently fully multidisciplinary challenges.

This chapter has also addressed the importance of funding stability. In the context of a programmatic home for an integrated research agenda, it notes that program leadership and execution are likely to be productive only if aggregated under a single management structure and housed in a NASA directorate or key organization that understands both the value of science and its potential application in future exploration missions.

All of these factors emphasize the need for the following elements:

  • Leadership with both true scientific gravitas and a sufficiently high level in the overall organizational structure at NASA to have a “voice at the table” when the agency engages in difficult discussions about prioritizing resources and engaging in new activities,

  • Unique authority over a dedicated and enduring funding stream, and

  • Organizational positioning that allows the conduct of a unique basic research program as well as interactions and influence within the mission-planning elements that develop new exploration options.


Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, “Research and Education and Next-Gen Suborbital Flight,” presentation to the Committee for the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, October 2009.


See for more details on the NASA CRuSR Program.


Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, Final Report, 2009, available at, p. 113.

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