Review of NASA's Space Flight Health Standards-Setting Process

Status Report From: National Academy of Sciences
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2007

NAS Committee to Review NASA's Space Flight Health Standards

Full report


The committee began its assessment of the standards-setting process by specifying the principles that the members deem to be the hallmarks of an exemplary deliberative process:

  • evidence-based: Policy decisions are based on the best available evidence and can stand up to scientific scrutiny.
  • open and transparent: All interested and affected parties have opportunities for meaningful par- ticipation, including opportunities to review and comment on draft or proposed health standards.
  • well documented: A written record that includes all proceedings, communications, and docu- ments that are a part of the decision-making process is created and preserved. Linkages between evidence and the decisions that are based on that evidence are explicit, along with quantification of uncertainty when the evidence is not definitive.
  • well informed: Decision makers make their policy choices on the basis of all available input. Poliicy decisions are rationally related to the facts on record and explained, including responses to any written comments from reviewers.
  • dynamic: There are mechanisms for updating, revising, adding, or deleting standards as evidence and circumstances evolve over time. Updating is done both in response to new relevant findings and as part of calendar-based review cycles.

The committee's overall assessment is that the initial space flight health standards (NASA, 2006a) represent a diligent and well-reasoned effort. The approach uses an occupational health model recom- mended in Safe Passage (IOM, 2001a) and provides an analytical framework for enhancing the safety of human space flight. NASA staff are thinking proactively about a range of potential health risks, some of which might result from exposures that are unique to space (e.g., galactic cosmic radiation, lunar dust) and others that are somewhat similar to exposures and experiences faced in similar environments (e.g., nonionizing radiation, confined spaces, prolonged isolation). The committee throughout this report notes opportunities for improvement to the standards setting process and makes recommendations for strengthening the process.

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