rebuilding an integrated program commensurate with the scale of past microgravity work by NASA will require that the larger set of priorities identified by the panels also be considered as priorities for implementation. Some of the key issues to be addressed in the integrated research portfolio are the effects of the space environment on life support components, the management of the risk of infections to humans, behavior having an impact on individual and group functioning, risks and effects of space missions on human physiological systems, fundamental physical challenges, applied fluid physics and fire safety, and finally, translational challenges arising at the interface bridging basic and applied research in both the life and physical sciences.

Chapters 4 through 10 identify research questions important both to successful space exploration and to advances in fundamental physics and biology enabled by access to space. These two, very connected concepts—the science enabled by exploration and the science that enables exploration—speak strongly to the powerful role of science within the human spaceflight endeavor. Each recommendation listed in Table 13.1 is identified by the committee as either enabling or enabled by exploration. (Some of the recommended research fits both categories.) Further, the research recommendations are also dependent on and define the resources needed to accomplish identified goals. Those resources include hardware and flight opportunities together with robust ground-based programs that place highly evolved experiments in the best position for success upon access to spaceflight.

Ultimately, the research recommended in this decadal study must be further prioritized based on future policy developments, a task that the information summarized in Tables 13.2 and 13.3 is meant to facilitate. Examples of how these tables can be used to develop a research portfolio for a mission-focused policy decision and a knowledge-focused policy decision (see Boxes 13.3 and 13.4 below in this chapter) are meant to indicate a possible approach, and not to be prescriptive.


Microgravity research facilities can be divided into two classes: space-based and ground-based. The International Space Station (ISS), discussed in Chapters 3 and 11, is the only space-based facility providing a long-term environment for scientists worldwide to carry out microgravity experiments. Short-term space-based facilities are free-flyers and satellites. Ground-based facilities include parabolic flights, drop towers and sounding rockets, bed rest facilities, accelerators, and medical clinics. A research portfolio that draws on communities of investigators using model organisms, robust technology, and all available ground and flight platforms will greatly facilitate this endeavor. Such an approach will allow solidifying critical new discoveries, decrease the time from selection to flight, shorten the discovery confirmation process, and enhance the outcomes of mission-driven life and physical sciences research.

Ground-Based Research Platforms

Ground-based research provides the basis for the design of flight-based research and can, at low cost, address fundamental scientific questions that enable space research and applications by resolving measurement and system feasibility issues. Ground-based fundamental physics research in heat, mass, and momentum transport, materials physics, combustion, and granular materials supports the design of human flight systems and launch capabilities. Space radiation in particular can be simulated well in ground-based laboratories. Accelerators at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory produce both high-energy protons and the energetic nuclei of heavier elements, allowing focused, mechanistic studies of the biological consequences for mammalian cells and other relevant model systems (plants, microbes, etc.) of exposure to radiation. Continued availability of space radiation facilities to NASA investigators is critical, as is broad access provided in a timely fashion to meet agency needs.

Aircraft (parabolic zero-gravity flight) and drop towers, which provide a few seconds of microgravity conditions at a time, can enable tests of technical feasibility and also serve as platforms for experiments that can be completed during a single drop or atmospheric flight. For translational programs such as in situ resource utilization (ISRU), analog field tests can be used to demonstrate system interactions, to evaluate repair and maintenance needs,

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement