Status Report

AIP FYI #86: Task Force Questions Scientific Value of Scaled-Back Space

By SpaceRef Editor
July 26, 2002
Filed under , ,

“If enhancements to ISS beyond ‘US Core Complete’ are not
anticipated, NASA should cease to characterize the ISS as a
science driven program.” – REMAP Task Force

A task force of distinguished scientists, asked to review and
prioritize the research objectives of NASA’s Office of Biological
and Physical Research (OBPR), concluded that the Core Complete
configuration of the International Space Station (ISS) is not
worthy of being considered a science program. NASA is currently
focusing its resources on finishing construction of the scaled-
back three-person core station; if the assembly is successful and
cost and management problems overcome, NASA and the
Administration will consider whether to expand the station’s
capabilities beyond this configuration. In a report that is
likely to be used by station critics, the task force warned that
if NASA does not enhance facilities, available crew time, and
shuttle capacity for ISS research, OBPR will be unlikely to
achieve much of its highest priority research. When pressed on
the report’s implications, based on information available at this
time, the chair of the task force acknowledged that if Core
Complete is determined to be the final state, termination of the
project should be considered.

The Research Maximization and Prioritization (REMAP) Task Force
was charged by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe in March with
evaluating research priorities and productivity for the OBPR
portfolio, which includes space station research, and providing
advice on “how to achieve the greatest progress in high-priority
research.” Due to time constraints, the task force examined only
the existing OBPR research programs, and relied on prior
assessments of specific research areas. Task Force chair Rae
Silver of Columbia University presented the group’s report to
the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) on July 10. The Advisory Council
will review the findings and recommendations of the REMAP report,
and prepare its recommendations for O’Keefe later in the summer.

The task force, comprising 20 scientists from relevant
disciplines, found that the current OBPR organization is not
optimal for identifying and focusing on the highest priority
research areas or multidisciplinary questions that span research
areas. It recommends that OBPR’s research portfolio “be built
around the most important scientific problems relevant to the
NASA mission on the ISS, rather than covering representative sub-
fields of science.” The task force reviewed OBPR research
without regard to platform (shuttle, free flyer, ground-based or
ISS) and determined that the highest priority OBPR research falls
into one or both of two broad categories: enabling research for
human exploration of space, and research with intrinsic
scientific value. Then, in each of the broad fields of medical,
biological and physical sciences, it ranked each specific
research area as either first, second, third or fourth priority,
or “consider termination.” The report acknowledges that
strategic planning within OBPR has historically been difficult
because of budget instability and unpredictability of flight

The issues that appeared to place the greatest constraints on
achieving top priority OBPR research were available crew time on
the Core Complete ISS configuration, and the capacity of the
shuttle to deliver the necessary equipment and resources to the
station. How much these factors will impact station research is
unknown at this time; discussion at the July 10 meeting indicated
a need for further analysis on which research priorities can be
conducted on other platforms, how ISS research can be phased over
time, and the actual availability of crew and shuttle capacity.
However, based on its concerns, the task force states that the
Core Complete version of the station (either with or without
international partners) should not be characterized “as a science
driven program.” The task force also recommends that NASA
“ensure appropriate funding for implementation of high priority
facilities,” such as a centrifuge and plant and animal habitats.
The report urges that, as ISS construction nears completion,
NASA designate one crew member as “science officer” and dedicate
at least one-third of the crew time to research operations.

Among the report’s additional recommendations are several
addressing the science community for OBPR and its selection of
research projects. It suggests that OBPR “consider alternative
methods for research solicitation” beyond strictly peer-review,
to better support “goal-oriented, need-driven” research. It
warns that there are too few graduate students and top quality
scientists participating in OBPR research due to “the lack of
predictable, frequent, and timely access to flight opportunities”
and the lack of “a stable funding base.” It notes that “research
funds have been diverted a total of four times to cover
engineering overruns,” and calls on NASA to “assure science as a
priority commitment with regard to flight schedule and project

At the July 10 presentation, there seemed to be some confusion
over the role and purview of the REMAP Task Force. While an
earlier task force on ISS cost and management, led by NAC member
Thomas Young (FYI #136, 2001), had called for prioritization of
space station research to help determine the desired final
configuration, REMAP was asked to review the entire OBPR program.
REMAP was charged with evaluating OBPR science “to maximize the
research return within the available resources in the President’s
FY 2003 Budget…with an emphasis on establishing the research
content for the ISS US Core Complete configuration (FYI #48,
2002).” However, Silver reported that O’Keefe had instructed the
panel not to consider “facility constraints” in its

Young and fellow Advisory Committee member John Glenn voiced
concerns that the task force report could provide ammunition to
critics of the ISS program; Glenn called its implications for
political support “dynamite.” Noting that his task force
considered the ISS Core Complete configuration a viable – if not
optimal – end state, Young questioned whether the REMAP findings
and preliminary estimates of crew and shuttle availability
implied that, if the station were not to be enhanced beyond Core
Complete, the project should be terminated. In the discussion
that followed, it was pointed out that not all top priority
research needed to be conducted on the station, that research
goals could be spread out over time, and that NASA was working to
improve crew time and shuttle capacity to support ISS research.
Based on the preliminary estimates, though, Silver eventually
remarked that if the station was not going to be enhanced beyond
the core configuration, perhaps termination should be considered.

In a press release, O’Keefe responded to the REMAP panel’s
report: “[T]his is a challenge. It is the first time NASA has
attempted to prioritize its research objectives across multiple
disciplines into a comprehensive and fully integrated research
strategy…. I look forward to the final recommendations of the
NASA Advisory Council and working with the entire science
community to reap the full benefits of this Agency’s space-based
research portfolio.” An Executive Summary of the REMAP report is
available at

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.