ASGSB Governing Board Visits Capitol Hill in March to Share the ASGSB Message

Press Release From: American Society for Gravitational and Space Research
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005


"To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond."

NASA's statement of purpose contains but 13 words, and three of them are life. This speaks to the central role that space life sciences must play if NASA's ambitious plans for the future are to be realized.

NASA's Vision for Space Exploration calls for the extension of humanity's presence across the solar system in a practical, safe, and sustainable manner. The American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology completely supports the Vision.

We know that biological research is critical for successful human space exploration and will aid in the understanding of phenomena such as bone and muscle loss, fracture and wound healing, suppression of the immune system, change in virulence of pathogens, and effectiveness of drugs. Biological research will also lead us towards the enabling technologies for ecologically based life support systems. Space Biology research and training must remain a priority.

Although the President's FY05 budget request for Human Health and Performance of $423M reflected a slight rise from the FY04 budget, the budget request drops in FY06 to $299M and remains low for FY07 through FY10 ($303M, $320M, $328M, $340M). These projections are inconsistent with the critical role that biology plays in space exploration.

Therefore, ASGSB recommends the following:

Utilize the International Space Station to conduct the full spectrum of exploration-driven biological research. Research on the ISS is now aimed primarily at reducing risks that affect human health and enhancing performance via countermeasure development and sustainable life support system design. At risk, however, is the ability to explore the scientific questions that provide the foundation for understanding how living systems respond to space flight and offer insight into reducing mission risk factors. Without this research funding mechanism in place, participation by academia also is severely curtailed, and opportunities for making major discoveries in space (on a par with penicillin) are all but eliminated. In the ISS, we have a unique facility that opens the door to innumerable research opportunities; it would truly be a loss not to capitalize on this capability.

Consider alternative platforms for supplementing research access to space. Explore options to utilize unmanned research satellites to conduct mission-critical research not possible on the ISS—e.g., research requiring the use of hazardous materials, such as biological pathogens, or studies combining microgravity exposure with high radiation fields such as will be encountered by astronauts en route to the moon or Mars. NASA had success in the 1960s with the similar BioSat program and striking success with collaborations on the Russian Biocosmos (or Bion) flights in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Reinvigorating this approach may offer a cost-feasible, complementary option for enhancing research on the ISS.

Encourage biological education and training of future generations of scientists and engineers. Half of NASA's employees are in science and engineering jobs. Much of the expertise developed over the past decades will be lost through retirement well before the milestone dates outlined in the Vision for Space Exploration. Without continuing support of research involving higher education, as was typical with the NRA-era grants, the agency risks losing the interest of those younger students who were nurtured in outreach programs aimed at the K–12 population.

ASGSB requests that Congress take these actions:

Convene an informational hearing with respect to the impact of the imminent phaseout of Space Biological Research and related science and technological capabilities on the Vision for Space Exploration, national capabilities, security, and benefits to society.

Require that NASA halt the elimination and de-funding of space biological research on cells, animals, and plants in the FY 06 budget request until such time as the National Research Council, the Congressional Budget Office, and/or other entities independent of NASA conduct a full study on the impact of its elimination.

Consider the value of promoting interagency support (involving, e.g., NSF or USDA) for conducting a robust program of ground-based space-related research.

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