Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Health, Medicine, and Biology

It is suggested that NASA’s current efforts related to health and medicine be augmented with efforts like the ones described below. Again, one way to think about the scale of these new efforts is to consider the funding that would be available if the Constellation transportation program were cancelled, and the resulting funding were divided among several application areas like this one. Depending on the nature of the cancellation (cancellation of the entire ESAS program, or shrinking it to a small version of the astronaut LEO space access portion), varying amounts of funding would be available. A rough order of magnitude estimate of the available funding available once the Shuttle is retired might be $500M to $900M per application area.

1. Expand ISS Research - Medical and biological research efforts on the International Space Station could be increased. These research efforts might include studies of the effects of microgravity and other aspects of the space environment on plants and animals with either a view towards improving our ability to live and work in the space environment, or gaining insights into health and agriculture problems on Earth. It could also include pharmaceutical research. The priority of this effort should be to encourage non-NASA use of the ISS (for example, commercial, university, and other government agency use). It could include adding to ISS capabilities, for example with new commercial modules or lab hardware.

2. Use of Commercial Space Stations – NASA could become a customer for commercial space stations like those planned by Bigelow Aerospace. It could add to its ISS health, medicine, and biology research efforts through work on these separate space stations. Depending on the services offered by commercial vendors, this effort could include experiments on “man-tended” stations and unmanned commercial satellites.

3. NASA Infrastructure Demonstrations – NASA could undertake demonstration work that is useful to non-NASA space medicine, biology, health, and agriculture research programs. An example of such potential work is the NASA proposal for a Micro Reentry Vehicle Centennial Challenge. The goal in this case is routine transportation of small research samples or industrial products from space (for example, a space station) to Earth.

4. Suborbital Experiments – NASA could increase its use of commercial suborbital flights and parabolic flights for pharmaceutical, biological, and medical work. The goal is to encourage routine and repeated access to these platforms by NASA researchers and external but NASA-funded researchers.

5. Astrobiology – NASA could increase its efforts in its searches for life in our Solar System, like robotic efforts at Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. This effort could also include increased funding for study of life in extreme environments on Earth, and the search for Earth-like extra-solar planets.

6. Telerobotic Medicine – Increased funding could be directed towards medical monitoring and treatment of astronauts from the Earth. Application to remote medicine on Earth is obvious.

7. Health and Medicine beyond LEO - Space medicine demonstrations and experiments could be sent to places like the Moon or Mars to test radiation, dust, or other hazards to astronauts there, as well as ways to address those hazards. Similar tests could be done for agriculture. Any such Moon or Mars experiment or demonstration effort would be intended to lay the groundwork for eventual human missions, whether by NASA or commercial ventures. Although the Constellation effort focuses on transportation of astronauts, it would be prudent to do a more thorough investigation of health hazards and ways such as agriculture to increase self-sufficiency before beginning an actual human program to the Moon or Mars. The idea is that the next human program should have a solid foundation, not just a transportation system, so it can result in settlement, not just “flags and footprints”.

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