and to demonstrate long-lived operations. Terrestrial analog field tests are essential to demonstrate the long-term reliability of candidate systems and to develop operational protocols.
Ground-based research is also important for the development of exercise countermeasures, including bed rest studies. Findings from animal models have generated fundamental knowledge concerning the effects of microgravity on muscle and bone physiology. Further, new avenues of animal research can unfold in the areas of epigenetics of gene expression and protein turnover in response to unloading stimuli. Such ground-based studies will benefit from shared specimens and data from space experiments using new technological approaches such as transcript profiling.
Analog environments (e.g., the ISS as an analog for remote and low-gravity planetary surfaces; polar and undersea research facilities) and rigorously designed experimental simulations (e.g., long-duration chamber studies) that faithfully mirror actual mission parameters (e.g., isolation, confinement, workload, long and uncertain time duration, communication delays, disruption of diurnal sleep-wake cycles) can help to support a balanced research portfolio. Analog opportunities offered through the ISS are discussed in Chapter 11.
Uncrewed flight opportunities on free-flyers provide a venue to conduct short-duration experiments, ideally with an animal centrifuge available to provide proper 1-g controls for animal specimens and to address the impact of microgravity on biological systems. Free-flyers are well suited for experiments involving virulent organisms or toxic, radioactive, or otherwise dangerous materials that pose a risk to humans. Suborbital platforms and parabolic flights are key in providing a short-duration microgravity environment for biological and physical sciences studies of phenomena and behaviors that may show significant effects during the transitions between 1 g and microgravity that will occur in planetary arrivals and departures.
Free-flying spacecraft can also be used for fundamental physics experiments that require an extremely low-noise and low-stray-acceleration environment or a specific orbit. Future possibilities include a rotating free-flyer (with or without a tether), perhaps with an emptied cargo vessel for long-duration experiments. Before ISS cargo vessels are destroyed, they can potentially be used for relatively large-scale microgravity experiments, such as fire safety tests. The absence of g-jitter also makes them an ideal platform for crystal growth experiments that are particularly sensitive to vibrations.
Many biological processes are compromised in microgravity, and the gravity threshold for restoring proper function is unknown. Availability of lunar bases for carrying out biological experimentation and for testing bioregenerative life support systems would allow assessment of whether biological functions will be normal (similar to those in 1 g) in partial gravity. Lunar or martian bases would also be useful for conducting planetary research described in other studies,1,2 such as fundamental seismographic studies, yielding insight into planets’ interiors and their geological history, as well as allowing studies of their regolith compositions, magnetic fields, and atmospheric phenomena (in the case of Mars) that are relevant to human exploration. In the longer term, such bases might also be used as platforms for large telescopes and provide a stable, long-term laboratory setting for reduced-gravity experimentation. Robotic exploration of the Moon could verify conditions near the lunar poles, develop resource maps, and demonstrate ISRU system end-to-end operations in the lunar environment. Robotic missions may be of particular importance for near-term exploration paths not directly focused on lunar exploration that could use landers or compact rovers. Lunar assets, such as thermal wadis comprising regolith-derived thermal mass materials, could serve as platforms that enable rovers and other exploration hardware to survive periods of cold and darkness.