availability of operational data would enable scientists to address such questions as whether astronauts who perform with less precision in space are characterized by potential mediators of performance (e.g., sleep disruption, motion sickness). The third type of research is on the acute and persistent effects of spaceflight on health. This approach requires the creation of a long-term astronaut health information registry to learn what, if any, chronic health problems are encountered by flight crews, including long after their mission. There is relatively little knowledge of long-term changes in the health of astronauts who have flown on long-duration space missions. As discussed above, policies on the availability of and access to astronaut health records have severely limited knowledge of the effects of the space environment on health, while hindering the development of effective countermeasures.
A strategy that would benefit all three of these research approaches would be the creation of robust databases that could be used by extramural scientists to address research questions. The databases could be populated retrospectively, with currently archived data from NASA-sponsored projects in the Life Sciences Data Archive, archived data from flight medicine, and available long-term follow-up health data such as the Longitudinal Study of Astronaut Health,22 with plans to expand the databases prospectively. The databases could be generated through a formal research announcement to attract experienced independent investigators who have established similar population databases (e.g., Nurses’ Health Study, the Framingham Study, the Women’s Health Initiative). Coupling the database with a genetic bank and repository of astronaut samples would ensure the availability of the maximal amount of data to address future investigations. Because of the limited number of humans who undergo exposure to the space environment, maintaining an extensive and well-organized database and managing it as a resource to be shared with the scientific community has long been viewed an essential step for scientific discovery. At the same time, because few humans undergo exposure to the space environment, it is recognized that even a de-identified database may not fully protect the confidentiality of data.23 As discussed above, the need to understand the risks of long-duration space exposure should be viewed as at least as high a priority as the protection of individual data privacy because the future of space exploration hinges on a solid knowledge of health risks. The informed consent process for astronauts can clearly specify the sources and types of data, including data collected from activities other than predefined research projects, that could be used for research purposes.
• A long-term strategic plan to maximize team research opportunities and initiatives would accelerate the trajectory of research discoveries and improve the efficiency of translating those discoveries to solutions for the complex problems associated with space exploration.
• Improved central information networks would facilitate data sharing with and analysis by the life and physical sciences communities and would enhance the science results derived from flight opportunities.
• Improving the access of the scientific community to samples and data collected from astronauts via central information networks would advance knowledge of the effects of the space environment on human health and improve the safety of space exploration. Any concerns regarding the confidentiality of data could best be addressed by the Department of Health and Human Services SACHRP.
It is important that NASA’s commercial sector interactions be as conducive to the advancement of science, technology, and economic growth as possible. As an example, contract specifications for commercial flight providers may hinder research unless they are formulated with specific requirements to accommodate science needs. Because up-mass to and down-mass from the ISS may be delivered by commercial contractors in the future, it is important that the contract specifications for vehicles include adequate capacity for transporting biological and/or inorganic samples and test apparatus. Conditioned down-mass is of particular importance because there are limited facilities on the ISS for storage of samples. Unless suitable down-mass transportation is made available, only the relatively simple analyses that can be conducted on the ISS will be feasible.
Broad, multidisciplinary teams will be necessary to coordinate and integrate activities across the commercial sector, the space medicine community, and the space operations community. Issues related to the control of intel-