existing and available platform of its kind, and it is essential that its presence and dedication to research for the life and physical sciences be fully employed in the decade ahead.
Before the 2010 budget announcement, the research plan of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for ISS utilization was expected to focus on objectives required for lunar and Mars missions in support of Constellation program timelines. Participation by the United States in the ISS was expected to end in 2016. There is now a de-emphasis at NASA on lunar missions and an extension of the ISS mission to 2020. The change in focus strengthens the need for a permanent research laboratory in microgravity devoted to scientific research in space focused both on fundamental questions and on questions posed in response to the envisioned needs of future space missions.
Each of the panel chapters (Chapters 4 through 10) in this report describes critical research questions, most of which will need to progress through the use of more than one research platform, including ground-based laboratories and facilities such as drop towers or parabolic flights, to use of the ISS. The platforms and facilities required for each research area are discussed in the individual chapters, but it can be noted that for the majority of investigations, the ISS will provide the most advantageous research platform once the investigations transition to flight. In many cases, the ISS will be the only platform capable of meeting the requirements of investigations, and the ISS is the only platform that can provide a very long duration microgravity environment. Summarized in the following sections are examples of areas of past and future life and physical sciences research benefiting from, or requiring, the capabilities of the ISS.
Although it is impossible to list all the various biological research projects that were conducted on the ISS prior to the current era, insights from a 2008 report from NASA indicate a spectrum that, for plants, ranges from investigating the influences of gravity on the molecular changes in Arabidopsis thaliana to studying the mechanisms of photosynthesis, phototropism, and gravity sensing.1 Cellular biology studies included investigating gene expression changes in Streptococcus pneumonia and select microbes, exploring mechanisms of fungal pathogenesis and tumorgenesis, and observing changes in the responses of monocytes in cell culture, blood vessel development, and wound healing to the space environment. Also investigated were the chromosomal aberrations in the blood lymphocytes of astronauts and the effect of spaceflight on the reactivation of latent Epstein-Barr virus. Such analyses have revealed notable gaps in knowledge. For example, there has not been a comprehensive program dedicated to analyzing microbial populations and responses to spaceflight, yet microbes play significant roles in positive and negative aspects of human health and in the degradation of their environment through, for example, food spoilage and biofouling of equipment.
The final report of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (also known as the Augustine Commission or Augustine Committee)2 has emphasized that future astronauts will face three unique stressors: (1) prolonged exposure to solar and galactic radiation, (2) prolonged periods of exposure to microgravity, and (3) confinement in close, relatively austere quarters along with a small number of other crew members with whom the astronaut will have to live and work effectively for many months while having limited contact with family and friends. All of these stressors are present in the ISS environment. Accordingly, ISS research studies could profitably determine mission-specific effects of these and other relevant stressors, alone and in combination, on the general psychological and physical well-being of astronauts and on their ability to perform mission-related tasks. Aspects pertaining to crew member interactions and the behavioral aspects of isolation and confinement have been examined on the ISS,3 but research with the full crew complement of six and prolonged mission durations is needed to address critical mission issues, such as the importance of sleep for astronaut performance and how best to maximize interpersonal behavior and maintain cognitive function so that the crew can function at its optimal level.
Experiments related to human physiology on the ISS have examined the effects of spaceflight on the central nervous system and spinal excitability, skeletal muscle, bone maintenance and loss, cardiovascular control, pulmo-