Implicit in this report are integrative visions of the science advances necessary to underpin and enable major new components, revolutionary systems, and bold exploration architectures for human space exploration. Essential to achieving affordable, safe, and productive space exploration systems, such advances are central to the U.S. space exploration policy and agenda. Their system-level aspects are fully addressed in the technical literature cited in Chapters 4 through 10. The panels drew on their collective knowledge of science and technology and both the references and their associated issues to define the scientific barriers, unit-processes, and physical challenges worthy of inclusion in the recommendations in this report.
Impediments to revitalizing the U.S. space exploration agenda include costs, past inability to accurately predict costs and schedule, and uncertainties about mission and crew risk. The technical communities recognize their obligations to deal with those impediments. Indeed, typical flow-downs from science as discussed in this report include improvements in function and efficiency, subsequent reductions in mass, and direct or implied reductions in cost. The starting point for much of the life sciences research is reducing mission and crew risk, an undertaking for which new understanding is required to make safe human passage possible to, for example, Mars. Better scientific understanding will also greatly improve the fidelity of overall cost and schedule predictions associated with development of new systems.
A few examples from preceding chapters of this report illustrate these points. One revolutionary and mission architecture-changing system involves on-orbit depots for cryogenic rocket fuels. The scientific foundations required to make this Apollo-era notion a reality are specified in the report. For some lunar missions, such a depot could produce the major cost savings of an Ares 1 launch system replacing the Ares 5. The highly publicized collection or production of large amounts of water from the Moon or Mars will require scientific understanding of how to retrieve and refine water-bearing materials from the extremely cold, rugged regions on those bodies. Once produced, that water could be transported to surface bases or to orbiting facilities for conversion into liquid oxygen and hydrogen by innovative solar-powered cryogenic processing systems and then stored in the on-orbit depots. All of these hardware and systems implementations require or will be enhanced by new scientific understanding. Such advances point the way to a new era in defining space exploration.
Part of gaining support for crewed Mars missions is being able to address with confidence the questions of protecting the health, safety, and job performance capabilities of crew members during the months-long transits to and from Mars. The life sciences research portfolio recommended in this report constitutes an integrated complex of scientific pursuits pertaining to multiple different biological systems and aimed at reducing to a minimum the health hazards of space explorers, thereby providing quantitative answers to the questions associated with visiting Mars. In other words, sustained research successes are required before humans can safely go to Mars and return.
Thus, this report is much more than a catalog of research recommendations; it identifies the scientific resources and provides tools to help in defining and developing with greater confidence the future of U.S. space exploration and scientific discovery.
1. National Research Council. 2003. New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
2. National Research Council. 2007. The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.