Status Report

Note from Sean O’Keefe Regarding ISS Science Community Petition

By SpaceRef Editor
July 2, 2002
Filed under , ,

To All Those From The ISS Science Community Joining In The Petition Opened For Comment On June 23, 2002:

Editor’s note: the original text of this letter is located below. A list of those who have signed this letter is online here.

It is so refreshing to read commentary based on the right
premise. Research must be the primary focus of the International Space
Station (ISS). NASA is currently moving as fast as is practicable on a
five-point reform and revitalization plan for ISS to put the effort on
course and use this unique laboratory for world-class research.

NASA’s ISS research priorities will be shaped by the ongoing Research
Maximization and Prioritization (ReMAP) Task Force, which is due to report
out in mid-July. The strong scientific rationale the petition evokes from
the space science community should be shared by the broad spectrum of
renowned scientists on the ReMAP Task Force, many of whom are from
non-space disciplines. The ReMAP results will guide us as we develop our
research plan for the Office of Biological and Physical Research and NASA’s
overall ISS utilization plan. The results of ReMAP will provide the basis
for NASA’s research priorities, which will be finalized in the September
2002 time frame. NASA will work closely with our international partners as
we proceed with this process.

NASA will then identify the resources needed for ISS to carry out this
research. The resource needs identified by NASA will be interwoven with
the resource capacity needs of all partners. The ISS Partnership will take
a fresh, innovative look at how to meet these resource capacity
requirements and enhance scientific return, while remaining realistic about
what it takes to safely operate in the severe environment of space. In
particular, we will determine crew size driven by the research and
operations requirements. From that analysis we’ll get a true picture of
what it will take for the partnership to field and operate required
capabilities — and not take for granted the presence of a certain number
of the superb team of astronauts and cosmonauts. Rather, we will carefully
consider the requirement for each ISS crew member based upon compelling
research and operations needs.

Meanwhile, the challenging task of ISS assembly continues. NASA has a
strong lineage of large scale systems integration excellence. But, each
mission in this ambitious assembly sequence must be successful and that
requires vigilance in our risk management commitment. Our reform and
revitalization efforts are centered on achieving the U.S. Core Complete
configuration. A rigorous systems engineering review of the assembly plan
is underway, as is a careful look at how best to operate ISS through the
U.S. Core Complete assembly period.

NASA is also committed to the accommodation of our partners’ contributions
to ISS. In particular, the Japanese Experiment Module, Europe’s Columbus
Laboratory, and the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous
Manipulator. Achieving U.S. Core Complete in early 2004, and the
accommodation of partner elements by the end of 2006, will provide an
impressive on-orbit capability for research. As an ongoing matter, we will
compare this capability to the capacity required based on the research

NASA’s reform and revitalization plan must restore fiscal responsibility to
the ISS program. Once we have regained a firm grip on the costs of ISS
assembly, operations, and research, we can credibly represent our future
plans for the ISS to those who must review and approve NASA’s
budget. Fiscal credibility will allow us to transform the discussion of
ISS from issues of management to an informed debate on the research to be
conducted on this unique platform. But first, we must demonstrate that our
plan is credible.

We need to ensure that the International Space Station realizes its
potential as a world-class research facility. An endorsement of the NASA
plan to achieve this objective also addresses the goals outlined in the
petition. So support of our plan by the petitioners would be most


Sean O’Keefe

Mr. Sean O’Keefe
NASA Administrator
Washington DC
(with cc to other ISS partners)

Dear Administrator,

We have learned from
various sources that the scientific utilization of the International Space
Station (ISS) as well as related microgravity facilities that might be
used for the international microgravity scientists are under threat of
loss mainly due to budget limitations.

We, the space science community, want to express our serious concern about
this issue. Since ISS was built as a science and application research
platform under international partnerships we would like NASA to focus
on its scientific priorities and goals.

  • Of particular concern
    is the lack of crew time to conduct the science due to the downsizing
    of the crew from 7 to 3 astronauts / cosmonauts. This seriously limits
    the majority of hours needed for scientific study.
  • Another concern
    is the loss of critical scientific equipment and operational laboratory
  • An added concern
    is the peer-reviewed experiments slated to fly on the Shuttle middeck
    and free flyers. Flight opportunities for NASA, ESA, CSA and NASDA peer-reviewed
    science have become rare, routinely taking a backseat to commercial/NASA
    center priorities.

Microgravity offers
a unique opportunity to study human physiological, biological, physical
changes in the absence of gravity. Understanding and using this environment
for material sciences, fluid sciences, crystallization, combustion and
other technological sciences will help us in understanding basic principles
of impact of weight onto these systems. Continued scientific studies in
microgravity will facilitate our understanding of mechanisms controlling
signal transduction and gene induction of cells, or the impact of Earth’s
gravity on the human body and its role in developing life.

The studies of astrobiology will show us the importance of gravity in
all phases of terrestrial and non-terrestrial life. Since all terrestrial
organisms evolved in a 1-g environment, understanding the effect of Earth’s
gravity on human physiology and biological sciences will give us insight
to fundamental biological laws and principals of medicine underlying gravity
based life. Applications to Earth based medicine will be an immediate

Besides these microgravity related sciences there is also a great interest
of using ISS for Earth observation and cosmic radiation studies as well
as a testbed and stepping stone for future missions to Mars or other destinations.

We have yet to realize
the full potential of an operational space station not only for the current
scientific advances but also to inspire both young and old in learning
more about the sciences and gravity based processes in biology and physics.
These opportunities are very near, the major investment has been made,
it is now only for all of us to focus our priorities to achieve the scientific
and social return on this investment.

The ISS Science Community

Editor’s note: A list of those who have signed this letter is online here.

SpaceRef staff editor.