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Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being and Function in Extended Space Exploration 4 Additional Observations A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO DEFINING MISSION NEEDS Steering group members agreed on the value of a systems engineering approach to identifying potential biology-based technologies for space exploration but learned that taking such an approach depends on having a sure understanding of specific system requirements. The group observed that the productivity of any future workshops will be increased if participants are provided with systematically defined specific system requirements, especially the capabilities expected of the humans involved in space travel and exploration. The requirements for fulfilling a specific set of Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise mission objectives would best be derived using a systems engineering approach in which humans at the exploration site are defined as system elements and incorporated into the total system architecture along with all other elements. Once NASA defines these requirements, future workshop participants can apply their technical expertise and creative energies to considering biology-based technologies for which a systematic analysis has already identified significant issues, risks, or opportunities. This approach would simultaneously channel and stimulate imagination and creativity and maximize the usefulness of the results. The overall analytical approach could encompass the following steps: (1) Define a desired mission scenario and its candidate total system architectures. (2) Develop a complete set of requirements for each architecture, from the system level down through the major subsystems and subsystem elements. (3) At the element level, define the functional requirements (i.e., inputs, processing, outputs) and engineering requirements (i.e., structural, envelope, environments, margins). (4) Define the design criteria associated with each requirement. Given that information, workshop participants could focus on proposing innovative biology-based technology concepts for enhancing human well-being or human function that would also meet
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Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being and Function in Extended Space Exploration the stated design criteria. As a follow-up activity, the proposed concepts could be compared with conventional systems using a set of figures-of-merit (e.g., risk level, mass, cost). Once NASA defines the system requirements, a system optimization process could be used to determine the most effective number of humans for a long-term mission and allocate the functions to be performed by them. Several subsystems incorporating biology-based concepts and elements to enhance human well-being or capabilities could be defined for Mars surface exploration missions. These configurations could be included in the systems engineering and optimization process to identify the most promising combinations offering the greatest leverage. TECHNOLOGY WATCH Much of the current activity in the research areas outlined in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 is taking place outside the fields of aeronautics and space science. In biology and some areas of biology-based technology, the state of the art is advancing rapidly and could offer substantial benefits in HEDS missions if transferred and adapted as appropriate. Therefore, it is important that NASA remain abreast of developments in relevant fields. At present, NASA's technology watch process is largely informal and decentralized. Individual researchers, like any other scientists, are expected to remain current in their own fields. But there is no formal, systematic mechanism to ensure that the myriad relevant areas and developments are monitored. Participants in both sessions of the workshop reported on here noted the importance of following up the identification of requirements with a systematic evaluation of all potential solutions, including innovative biology-based approaches. A number of participants suggested that NASA might benefit from organizing a formal technology watch of research advances in the biological sciences and innovations in biology-based technologies. A technology watch requires the establishment of monitoring criteria, communication of these criteria within appropriate government agencies and to relevant universities and industries, monitoring for new developments, and assessments of the applicability of these developments for the identified uses. There are many ways to communicate with technology researchers and developers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for example, maintains a technology watch through its extension services, which transmit information to and from end users of USDA products and services. Other possible mechanisms include routine contact with technology transfer offices in academia and industry, Internet searching and monitoring, publication in peer reviewed journals, formation of academic consortia, establishment of technical advisory committees, and regular workshops at scientific meetings. If a formal technology watch were established, NASA would need to find a way to exchange information about its requirements quickly and effectively with key industries and academic experts and centers, which could then help identify solutions. NASA would have to define its problem areas, issues, and requirements at the appropriate (i.e., subsystem) level. To supplement a central technology-watch network, NASA employees might be encouraged to maintain technology watches and could receive credit for this activity. Increased emphasis on scholarly activities, including publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentations, might increase awareness of the state of the art.
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Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being and Function in Extended Space Exploration As a means of enhancing its awareness and use of biology-based technologies, NASA might benefit from systematic monitoring of leading-edge science and technology in the following areas: Biosensors. Cross-disciplinary activity involving biology, chemistry, and electronics has gained momentum in recent years in the development of biosensors. Biosensor technology is advancing rapidly, and technologies with potential applications in spacecraft and planetary habitat advanced life support systems could be monitored. Microbiological methods. Laboratory culture methods currently used to screen air and water for microorganisms are primitive, bulky, and unreliable. Advancements in modern microbiological methods such as gene probes and fluorescent antibody techniques could be identified, and, where feasible, used to detect and identify microorganisms in the air and water of spacecraft and planetary habitats, as well as to quantify pollutants there. Closed-loop aquaculture. Current research in closed-loop aquaculture (e.g., fish, brine, shrimp, shellfish) may provide insights that could be applied to the development of highly efficient systems for closed-loop regenerative advanced life support systems for extended space missions. Genetic engineering of plants. Plants can be used not only as food but also as sources of useful materials and chemicals and for the recycling of carbon dioxide and other inorganic and organic wastes. Advances in the genetic engineering of plants that can meet defined performance goals for spaceflight need to be monitored. Biomaterials for spacecraft and habitats.Biomaterials, biomolecular materials, and biologically inspired structures could provide enhanced performance characteristics (e.g., self-repair, self-diagnosis, low maintenance, in situ production, radiation protection) and promote recovery, reuse, recycle, and repair. Considerable R &D has been devoted to these types of materials for other applications. Those that have potential applications for space exploration need to be monitored. Ecosystem or biosystem stability and diversity. Progress in ecosystem engineering and management, especially with respect to the long-term stability of systems used in recycling and food production subsystems, will be pivotal to the success of extended missions to space. Enzymatic detergents and cleaners. Enzymatic catalysts are replacing chemicals in industrial cleaning applications. The “green chemistry” industry could be monitored. Advances in enzymatic detergents and cleaners could be used in housekeeping aboard spacecraft and in planetary habitats. Enzymes that cause hypersensitivity diseases need to be identified.
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Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being and Function in Extended Space Exploration Technologies for monitoring cognitive states. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and other noninvasive monitoring technologies are developing rapidly, and their use is expanding in medicine and other fields. Microelectrical mechanical systems. The state of the art in microelectrical mechanical systems technology is advancing rapidly and may offer benefits in applications such as active space suits that assist in movement, sensing, and self-repair. Task-specific robots. Extraordinary advances in computer speed and memory have brought cleaning and delivery robots to the point of commercialization for mass markets. By monitoring the field and adapting commercial robots for its own use, NASA might meet mission needs more cost-effectively than by designing small numbers of robots specifically for space applications. Visual systems. Heads-up displays, artificial retinas, and other visual systems are under development that offer the possibility of enhanced human vision or new modalities such as over-the-horizon vision. Improvements in these technologies could be monitored as NASA defines its needs in this area.
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