Status Report

AIAA Information Paper: Restore and Sustain Our National Space Life Sciences Research Capability

By SpaceRef Editor
April 3, 2006
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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is deeply concerned about the potential destruction of the U.S. space life sciences research community. The human exploration element within the administration’s Vision for Space Exploration is dependent on this community to extend a human presence, as proposed, beyond Earth orbit. However, beginning with the 2005 operating plan, this critical R&D area has had its overall budget cut by 70% and its basic research budget cut by 90%, with no proposed improvement on the horizon. This threatens the very existence of a viable national space life sciences research community. Capabilities once lost cannot be effectively restored, and even if possible, would suffer profound financial and human cost penalties.


The U.S. Congress and the public must now decide if the value of the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration to the nation’s security, economy and knowledge-based competitiveness is worth pursuing without a strong science rationale as a driver. Additional life sciences knowledge will be needed to ensure safe passage and life support for humans far from Earth and to determine if and how life can extend beyond our home planet. The research community cannot survive a “break” in the continuum.


  • There are 278 investigations in space life sciences being conducted in 40 states, involving 1,526 students. Of these investigations, 103 are fundamental biology research. At the end of FY06, NASA will terminate approximately 87 of these investigations.*
  • The NASA Authorization Bill of 2005 directs a funding set-aside of 15% of ISS research money (as defined by NASA) for ground-based, free-flyer, and ISS microgravity research that is not directly related to supporting the human exploration program (ref section 305). “Microgravity” research is defined therein as life and physical science research such as molecular crystal growth, animal research, basic fluid physics, combustion research, cellular biotechnology, low-temperature physics, and cellular research.
  • The bill designates the U.S. Segment of the ISS as a national laboratory. NASA is assigned to transmit a plan to Congress by December 2006 describing how that lab will be operated.
  • Language in the NASA FY05 Appropriations Bill directs the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board to “conduct a thorough review of the science that NASA is proposing to undertake under the space exploration initiative and to develop a strategy by which all of NASA’s science disciplines, including Earth science, space science, and life and microgravity science, as well as the science conducted aboard the International Space Station, can make adequate progress towards their established goals…”


  • Congress must fund a fundamental space life sciences research program within NASA at no less than a “keep alive approach” at a level of $38M starting in FY07, but not at the cost of other relevant NASA missions (e.g. Space Science, Exploration, Aeronautics)
  • Ensure congressionally mandated NASA Plan for Space Station as National Lab has capability to support U.S. microgravity-related research, including life sciences and advanced life support.
  • Support implementation of the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE) Act, S.2198. This includes a proposed NASA basic research budget increase of 10% per year thru 2013, and grants to early career scientists and engineers (minimum of 45 grants per year)
  • Conduct a congressional hearing on microgravity-related sciences, addressing the recommendations of the recent NRC report “Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station”, and addressing the balance in NASA’s science programs.
  • Appropriate research funds for other agencies (NSF, USDA, DoD, NIH) to support integrated peer-reviewed space life sciences research.

SpaceRef staff editor.