existing resources whenever possible to avoid duplication of effort, and (5) building a well-connected community of investigators.
Centralized Information Networks
Centralized information networks based on NASA-sponsored research that are accessible to intramural and extramural investigators would be a valuable research tool. Modern analytical techniques offer a tremendous opportunity to understand the effects of spaceflight on life and physical science systems. High throughput techniques (e.g., genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, etc.) generate vast amounts of data that can be mined and analyzed by multiple researchers. An example is the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project.15 The creation of a formalized program to promote the sharing and analysis of such data would greatly enhance the science derived from flight opportunities. Elements of such a program would include guidelines on data sharing and community access, with a focus on rapid updating of datasets for shared access while respecting the rights of the principal investigators and confidentiality of participants in experiments. A program of analysis grants dedicated to the spaceflight-derived datasets, including operational medical data, would provide value-added interpretation while ensuring that all data are maximally mined for information. Larger scale multiple investigator experiments, with related science objectives, methods, and common data products would result in the production of large datasets and would emphasize analysis over implementation. This type of dataset, which is similar to those used by the space and Earth sciences within NASA, would likely be a tremendous resource for student research.
Improved Access to Samples and Data from Astronauts
The medical and scientific communities interested in human health, safety, and performance during long-duration spaceflight have been consistent in their requests for greater access to biological samples and other data collected from astronauts before, during, and after space missions.16-19 The rights of astronauts to privacy have, at times, appeared to conflict with the need for access to valuable data to benefit future space travelers. One conclusion from the 2001 IOM report Safe Passage20 was that
NASA has devoted insufficient resources to developing and assessing the fundamental clinical information necessary for the safety of humans on long-duration missions beyond Earth orbit. Although humans have flown in space for nearly four decades, a paucity of useful clinical data have been collected and analyzed.
There are probably multiple reasons for the failure to advance this fundamental knowledge, including inadequate funding, competing mission priorities, lack of attention to research, and restricted access to data and biological samples. The IOM report included suggestions for resolving this conflict. Among the recommendations were that NASA should (1) establish a comprehensive health information system for astronauts, for the purpose of collecting and analyzing data, and (2) develop a strategic research plan designed to increase the knowledge base about the risks to astronaut health. Some of these goals have been met, but much remains to be completed to provide more widespread scientific access to such data.
There are potentially three different types of research that are important for advancing knowledge of the biological effects of the space environment, each with unique strategies for collecting biomedical data. The first is hypothesis-driven experiments designed for space that generate data to address specific biological questions. Such data may already be available through the Life Sciences Data Archive,21 which according to its webpage is an active archive that provides information and data from spaceflight experiments funded by NASA. However, this archive does not appear to be current; some of the “New Experiments” described on the homepage are decades old. Although there is a mechanism to search the database, this approach yields only summary data from the experiments. The second type of research capitalizes on routinely captured operational data that could be used to address biomedical research questions. For example, NASA already has extensive operational data (e.g., the precision of navigation maneuvers) that could be linked to data on crew characteristics and made available for data mining. The