tive countermeasure strategies requires input from experts across multiple disciplines (e.g., basic bone and muscle biologists, cardiovascular physiologists, endocrinologists, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, biomechanists, behavioralists). Further, physical scientists and engineers must work side by side with life scientists to ensure that countermeasures developed and tested in ground-based studies can be implemented in the space environment.
In this regard, it is not surprising that exercise countermeasures for the preservation of bone and muscle mass on the ISS have been ineffective to date. Although new exercise equipment was recently positioned on the ISS, the previous generation of equipment did not have the capacity to provide an adequate stimulus intensity and, because of vibration issues, could not be used in a manner that would generate the desired high strain rates. If the development and deployment of such equipment is not driven by research needs, the quality of the research is compromised by the use of inferior technology. Such problems could seemingly be avoided or minimized by having life scientists, physical scientists, and engineers working together. An example of vertical integration in physical sciences would be collaboration among researchers with complementary talents and interests to develop a knowledge base that leads to design, development, and testing of the physical components (e.g., heat pipe radiator) of a system.
Beyond the need to provide scientific underpinnings to fulfill future space exploration goals, the space research community represents an ideal foundation where life and physical scientists and engineers can coalesce around common goals. Because scientific advances can occur as a result of serendipity, it is important to have life scientists, physical scientists, and engineers working side by side to take full advantage of both planned and serendipitous discoveries. Examples of the benefits of multidisciplinary interactions already exist. For instance, the development of protective gear and issues related to temperature and environment control during extravehicular activity have engaged both the life and physical sciences communities. Despite such examples, at this time a broad-based, multidisciplinary, integrative approach to conducting space exploration research has not been formally implemented. Because such research is more challenging to organize and conduct than research by individual investigators, scientists must be incentivized to participate in the former. Funding opportunities that require multidisciplinary research teams would provide the appropriate incentive. A long-term strategic plan to maximize team research opportunities and initiatives would be expected to lead to more-efficient solutions to the complex problems associated with space exploration. Implementing this initiative would require forming integrative teams of intramural and extramural scientists, with representation across the life and physical sciences, as well as across funding agencies, to assist in this crucial planning process. Team research models used in physical sciences and engineering by DARPA, with tangible outcomes at the end of the project, should be assessed and considered.
Translational Research—Advancing Research Discoveries to Mission Needs
To meet the demands for new scientific knowledge to guide future space missions, there is a strong need to improve the trajectory of research productivity. This might best be addressed by a systematic analysis of where inefficiencies might be occurring in the translational process. In the physical sciences, the gap between basic research studies and successful commercial or government applications has been referred to as “the valley of death.”14 Clinical and translational scientists in recent years have also begun to define particularly problematic gaps that commonly prove to be the “valley of death” for new drugs, devices, or interventions.
Overcoming, or at least minimizing, these gaps has been a hallmark of the CTSA program launched by NIH. The kinds of interventions currently being undertaken to improve the process of clinical and translational research in the CTSA network should be generalizable to various aspects of NASA’s research enterprise.
One important aspect of the CTSA program is the deployment of informatics capabilities addressing all aspects of the research process so that information captured about all transactions (e.g., research, contractual, bureaucratic, laboratory, facility, etc.) are monitored to examine inefficiencies that may be delaying or, in some cases, sidelining a rapid and orderly discovery process. As discussed above, this process also provides important tools for increasing communication among scientists and between NASA and the extramural research community of investigators in space life and physical sciences. Hallmarks of the CTSA approach include (1) focusing on investigator needs, (2) collecting and analyzing metrics to assist in the evaluation of the success of projects, (3) inclusion of auditing to insure evaluation metrics are available to support program review and future prioritization, (4) leveraging