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Space Biology Advocates Join Forces in Talks with Capitol Hill

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

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Groups Seek to Enable Exploration, Retain National Space Biology Capability and Generate Public Benefits

(Washington DC) Space Biologists from around the country have been making the rounds in Congress over the last two weeks, carrying a common message: The anticipated Moon and Mars Missions under the Vision for Space Exploration will require continued investments in robust life sciences R&D at NASA.

A geographically diverse group from the AIAA Life Sciences Technical Committee, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB) including scientists, bioengineers, small business technology developers and others, pointed out that FY06 NASA budget planning promises to eliminate the majority of biological flight research. It also reduces ground-based research to levels which essentially represents a phasing out of the program. Space biologists are concerned that basic insights into astronaut health issues will be negatively impacted by an elimination of key research programs.

The collective expertise for conducting the necessary cutting-edge research that resides in universities, companies and government labs represents a unique national capability that advocates fear will be irretrievably lost if the current pace of proposed cuts continues. This would be especially grevious in the very decade when biotechnology and genomics capabilities hold the promise of new high-value science at a reduced cost per payload.

The loss of medical and other public benefits from this R&D is also of concern. NSF public opinion research indicates that public interest in space is directly related to the existence of such benefits. The space biology teams argued that the early and on-going return of such benefits would be essential for sustaining public interest in space endeavors and NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration.

Advocates reminded Congress that the President has already reaffirmed that the first order of business in pursuing the Exploration Vision is the completion of the International Space Station. (ISS), the targeted site for much of this future research.

The current Shuttle manifest includes 28 flights to achieve “Assembly Complete˜. Reports form credible sources in and around NASA indicate that a serious effort is underway to reduce this number to 19 or less. The impetus for this reduction is to retire the Shuttle early and transfer funds from the Shuttle to the Exploration Program. If the Shuttle is retired early, the Centrifuge Accommodation Module (CAM) with its 2.5 meter Centrifuge will be cancelled (currently launch of the CAM is scheduled for early 2009)

Proponents from a wide cross section of space biology have concluded that the loss of the developing CAM to Space Biology and Biomedicine would be similar to the Hubble never being launched for Astronomers. The Centrifuge is a unique variable gravity research device: there is simply no way on the ground to determine the long term risks of Lunar and Mars gravity to living systems. In addition, key questions about the use of artificial gravity as a countermeasure to the detrimental effects of long-term diminished gravity as they apply to human explorers cannot be clearly answered without the Centrifuge.

The FY06 budget also proposes canceling the last of the original suite of biological research equipment planned for the ISS, the Advanced Animal Habitat. (AAH). Hill briefings indicated that the AAH is essential for research that simply cannot be done in space with humans in crucial areas such as wound and fracture healing, drug absorption, cell and molecular functioning in space and radiation biology.

Life scientists also argue that in addition to shuttle and ISS, up mass capability and research destinations will come on line, as the growing private space entrepreuerial sector matures. Thus, the deferral of much space life sciences research and the abrupt termination of Space Biology now, is not justified in the context of the evolving international flight capability and new emerging technologies which enable the research.

Deep concerns for space life sciences is also rocking relationships with the Japanese ISS International Partner, JAXA. According to a letter from a JAXA Head to NASA Headquarters, The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has expressed "significant concerns˜ to NASA about potential negative impacts of U.S. proposed changes to the ISS. In a February 15th letter to NASA HQ, JAXA Executive Director Koji Yamamoto said that realignment of the JAXA-developed ISS Centrifuge project "will negatively impact the on-going ISS program's credibility, which will lead to the loss of Japan's public and financial support, and will significantly affect Japan's existing and future collaboration with the US in the ISS and beyond because it underscores the difficulties in those collaborations."

NASA’s plan to limit future Shuttle flights has raised concerns that the JAXA Centrifuge project will not be flown. In addition to the Centrifuge, the CAM includes a JAXA-developed lab module and various racks and instruments forstudying gravitational biology. JAXA believes that the Centrifuge capabilitieswill uniquely support the expansion of human space exploration˜, and offered to defend this claim to NASA planners.

The annual life sciences communications event with Congress comes on the heels of the announcement of a new NASA Administrator, Mike Griffin. Space biologists hope that the rapid program terminations will cease, and provide the new Administrator an opportunity to review the situation, before the science community is so eroded that the national capability to conduct research and train the next generation of space biology researchers is destroyed.

Note To Editors

For Further information please contact

Chris Brown (919 513 2457), President of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB) or,

Kathleen Connell (954 561 5610), Vice Chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Life Sciences Technical Committee

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