ESTABLISHING A SPACE LIFE AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES
RESEARCH PROGRAM: PROGRAMMATIC ISSUES
Research in the complex environment of space requires a strong, flexible, and supportive programmatic structure. Also essential to a vibrant and ultimately successful life and physical sciences space research program is a partnership between NASA and the scientific community at large. The present program, however, has contracted to below critical mass and is perceived from outside NASA as lacking the stature within the agency and the commitment of resources to attract researchers or to accomplish real advances. For this program to effectively promote research to meet the national space exploration agenda, a number of issues will have to be addressed.
Administrative Oversight of Life and Physical Sciences Research
Currently, life and physical science endeavors have no clear institutional home at NASA. In the context of a programmatic home for an integrated research agenda, 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. The committee concluded that:
• Leadership with both true scientific gravitas and a sufficiently high level in the overall organizational structure at NASA is needed to ensure that there will be a “voice at the table” when the agency engages in difficult deliberations about prioritizing resources and engaging in new activities.
• The successful renewal of a life and physical sciences research program will depend on strong leadership with a unique authority over a dedicated and enduring research funding stream.
• It is important that the positioning of leadership within the agency allows the conduct of the necessary research programs as well as interactions, integration, and influence within the mission-planning elements that develop new exploration options.
Elevating the Priority of Life and Physical Sciences Research in Space Exploration
It is of paramount importance that the life and physical sciences research portfolio supported by NASA, both extramurally and intramurally, receives appropriate attention within the agency and that its organizational structure is optimally designed to meet NASA’s needs. The committee concluded that:
• The success of future space exploration depends on life and physical sciences research being central to NASA’s exploration mission and being embraced throughout the agency as an essential translational step in the execution of space exploration missions.
• A successful life and physical sciences program will depend on research being an integral component of spaceflight operations and on astronauts’ participation in these endeavors being viewed as a component of each mission.
• The collection and analysis of a broad array of physiological and psychological data from astronauts before, during, and after a mission are necessary for advancing knowledge of the effects of the space environment on human health and for improving the safety of human space exploration. If there are legal concerns about implementing this approach, they could be addressed by the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections.
Establishing a Stable and Sufficient Funding Base
A renewed funding base for fundamental and applied life and physical sciences research is essential for attracting the scientific community needed to meet the prioritized research objectives laid out in this report. Researchers