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Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being and Function in Extended Space Exploration
organized to emphasize, respectively, (1) life support, habitat systems, and human health; and (2) perception, manipulation and locomotion, cognition, and systems and computation.
In the absence of immediate access to information about past NASA research in these areas, session 1 and 2 discussions were based on first principles. In addition, because NASA's presentations outlined overall needs and the current thinking about system design for a future Mars mission and other generalized missions, few details were available to session participants concerning requirements at the system level, design criteria for important subsystems, or functional requirements for astronauts. Participants thus sought to identify basic areas of need and discussed creative ways in which biological concepts such as those listed in Box 1.1 might be applied to improve long-duration human exploration of space.
Box 1.1 Biological Concepts with Potential Applications for Space Exploration
Examples from biomimetics, the science of developing synthetic systems based on information obtained from biological systems, include manipulators that improve dexterity or grip, insect-like robots, neural networks, and recyclable adhesives such as barnacle-based glues.
Examples of the application of biometaphorics principles of function and architecture inspired by life-unique properties include self-replicating systems, self-repairing structures and materials, ecological principles (e.g., critical trace materials seeded in spaceborne structural materials as future resources), and artificial life (e.g., self-organizing principles, self-assembling systems).
Biomolecular materials incorporate biological molecules or concepts in nonbiological devices or systems or are structured in a way that is characteristic of biological materials. Examples include living cells used as sensors and clothing patterned after sharkskin.
Hybrid organisms consist of genetically engineered biological components linked to nonbiological systems. Examples might include biological cells and computer chips (biochips) used in combination to detect radiation, genetically engineered beetles for carrying sensors, root-like plants that can creep into cracks and pores and grow as depositors of sealant, or surface penetration instruments (e.g., tentacle-like micro- or nano-sized probes).
The following section summarizes the presentations by NASA personnel in the workshop's plenary session. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 summarize the results of discussions by the participants in sessions 1 and 2, respectively. Chapter 4 offers some brief observations by workshop participants on points for consideration in any follow-on activities to further explore areas of biology-based research with the potential to enhance human exploration of space. Biographical sketches of the workshop's steering group are given in Appendix A, and information on the agenda and a list of participants are provided in Appendix B.
In considering optimal use of technology to enable human exploration of space, it is worth noting that there are valid reasons to use physicochemical systems rather than less proven ones with biological elements. One reason is the increase in reliability that comes from using a proven technology rather than a new one for which failure modes have yet to be fully identified. The issue of reliability is important for “biology-based” systems, many of which interact in an as yet poorly defined chemical domain. By contrast, the interactions among mechanical systems are more amenable to complete systems identification and analysis. Methods will have to be