Consistent with U.S. Space Exploration policy, NASA intends to conduct a series of robotic and crewed exploration missions over the next decades. These include missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and other missions to low Earth orbit and missions to the Moon. These missions will involve a combination of factors such as reduced gravity level, radiation, life support and extended-duration confinement. In addition, these missions present multidisciplinary scientific and engineering challenges and opportunities that are both fundamental and applied in nature. Meeting these scientific challenges will require an understanding of biological and physical sciences and their intersections in partial and microgravity environments.
Previous congressional language in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 had reserved a portion of space station research funding for fundamental research in life and microgravity sciences. More recently, Congress provided additional direction regarding life and microgravity research (Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161)) by stating: “Achieving the goals of the Exploration Initiative will require a greater understanding of life and physical sciences phenomena in microgravity as well as in the partial gravity environments of the Moon and Mars. Therefore, the Administrator is directed to enter into an arrangement with the National Research Council to conduct a “decadal survey” of life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity to establish priorities for research for the 2010-2020 decade.”
In early 2010, guidance was provided to NASA in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 Presidential Budget request which would extend the lifetime of ISS to 2020—considerably altering both the research capacity and role of ISS in any proposed program of life and microgravity research. Additional changes initiated by the budget request would greatly affect both the organization and likely scale of these programs at NASA. In order to ensure that the committee could both provide timely input to these organizational changes, and incorporate consideration of their possible impact into its final report recommendations, the committee will develop an interim report focused on key near term issues, followed by a reassessment of its portfolio assumptions and recommendations prior to completion of the final full report.
STATEMENT OF TASK
Consistent with the direction in the Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161), the National Research Council will organize a decadal survey to establish priorities and
provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010-2020 decade. The committee will develop criteria for the prioritization.
The decadal survey will define research areas, recommend a research portfolio and a timeline for conducting that research, identify facility and platform requirements as appropriate, provide rationales for suggested program elements, define dependencies between research objectives, identify terrestrial benefits, and specify whether the research product directly enables exploration or produces fundamental new knowledge. These areas will be categorized as either those that are required to enable exploration missions or those that are enabled or facilitated because of exploration missions.
The decadal survey should:
• Define research areas that enable exploration missions or that are enabled by exploration missions;
• For each of the two categories above, define and prioritize an integrated life and physical sciences research portfolio and associated objectives;
• Develop a timeline for the next decade for these research objectives and identify dependencies between the objectives;
• Identify terrestrial, airborne, and space-based platforms and facilities that could most effectively achieve the objectives;
• Explain how the objectives could enable exploration activities, produce knowledge, or provide benefits to space and other applications;
• Identify potential research synergies between NASA and other U.S. government agencies, as well as with commercial entities and international partners; and
• Identify potential research objectives beyond 2020.
The results of the decadal survey will assist in defining and aligning life and physical sciences research to meet the needs of exploration missions. The recommendations regarding the timeline and sequence of research are intended to allow NASA to develop an implementation plan that will impact future exploration missions. The survey should focus on the aforementioned tasks and should not recommend budgetary levels. This decadal survey should build upon the findings and recommendations of previous National Academies’ studies conducted in this area.
Prior to the publication of the final report, a brief interim report will be developed that is intended to address near term challenges faced by NASA as it reorganizes its programs to comply with directions to NASA in the President’s FY 2011 Budget that substantially affect the conduct of ISS science in particular, and life and microgravity science in general. The interim report will focus on issues identified by the committee that relate to:
1. ISS as a platform for conducting life and physical sciences research, and
2. Programmatic support of a healthy and sustainable life and physical sciences research program at NASA.
The interim report will identify programmatic needs and issues to guide near-term decisions that are critical to strengthening the organization and management of life and physical sciences research at NASA. The interim report will also identify a number of broad topics that represent near-term opportunities for ISS research. These areas, along with research more suited to other platforms, will be discussed in greater detail in the final report. In addition to any relevant findings, the interim report may include recommendations to the extent that they are useful and that adequate justification for them can be provided in this short report.