Space Platforms for Research Beyond 2020

Although most of the recommendations in this report address the current decade, the committee recognizes the long time constant inherent in the implementation of some of the recommendations and thus the importance of planning for the period 2020-2029. The efforts for that decade include extension of research findings from the 2010-2019 decade and completion of remaining gaps. Although specific gaps are challenging to predict, it can be expected that some projects started in the 2010-2019 decade will not reach maturity in that period. Likely to be available in 2020-2029, for example, are new transport vehicles capable of carrying astronauts well beyond low Earth orbit—emphasizing the need for research leading to compact low-power yet highly effective devices that will provide countermeasures for changes in multiple human systems during long voyages in microgravity. Further, the role of partial gravity in preventing deterioration in important physiological systems will have to be clearly understood and countermeasures developed, if necessary, to mitigate those effects. NASA should therefore consider a flexible infrastructure of experimental facilities that could be upgraded to novel exploration systems.

A lunar outpost established as a key national scientific resource could prove to be an important research platform for ongoing studies in partial gravity, providing, among other benefits, sustainable research laboratories for biological research on model systems addressing key scientific areas related to microgravity.


Table 13.1 summarizes, by discipline, the research elements selected by the panels, in close coordination with the committee, as having the highest priority, and which this survey recommends for inclusion in NASA’s new portfolio of biological and physical sciences research. The committee concluded that the elements listed in Table 13.1 are important in the creation of a compelling program of life and physical sciences research that can address both fundamental scientific goals and exploration technology needs. These research elements are not described in detail here; instead, unique identifiers listed in Table 13.1 allow locating related full descriptions in Chapters 4 through 10 (where each identifier is listed after a recommendation selected as having highest priority). These identifiers are also shown in Tables 13.2 and 13.3, which map the research elements to the eight prioritization criteria used by the committee. The committee believes that these recommended research areas are the most critical to advancing the national space research program, and that these elements collectively constitute the core of an integrated research portfolio in microgravity. It should be kept in mind that this list of recommendations represents the distillation of priorities from an exceptionally large number of disciplines that have in the past typically been treated in separate, more narrowly focused studies. Most of the panel chapters contain additional recommended research—important to a program in that discipline—that was not selected for the integrated portfolio.


In Table 13.2, the committee maps the highest-priority recommendations (each indicated by the unique identifier listed in Table 13.1) from Chapters 4 through 10 to the eight prioritization criteria defined in Box 13.2. The research areas listed under a given criterion in Table 13.2 are those categorized in Table 13.3 as providing “high” support for that particular criterion. This mapping is intended to help provide a basis for policy-related ordering of an integrated research portfolio, depending on future policy decisions.

As examples of how the information in Table 13.2 might be used, consider two bounding policy options that could drive a research portfolio. The first is a decision to send humans to Mars (Box 13.3). Clearly Prioritization Criteria 1 and 2 would be the most important for prioritizing the research to support this policy, and supporting the associated recommended research areas in an integrated program with clear translational end points would be essential. These translational end points must enable realization of specific design goals that would be unachievable without successful research. In this first example Prioritization Criteria 3 and 5 would also have to be taken into consideration when selecting the science necessary to achieve this policy goal.

The second sample policy option is a decision to hold off on advanced human missions until a new base of capability is developed and to focus instead in the near term on advancing leading-edge science (Box 13.4) and

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