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Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space

The prepublication version of the final report "Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era" was released on April 5, 2011 at 11:00 AM EDT.  View  the report via the link below.
Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era

An interim report for this decadal survey was publicly released on July 14, 2010 and can be viewed via the link below.
Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration: An Interim Report

Project Information

  • Statement of Task
  • Study Plan
  • Community Input & Outreach Events 
  • Panel Information
  • Committee Membership
  • Staff and Contact Information
    Past Reports and Useful Links

Statement of Task (Revised)

Consistent with the direction in the Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161), the National Research Council will organize a decadal survey to establish priorities and provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010-2020 decade. The committee will develop criteria for the prioritization.

The decadal survey will define research areas, recommend a research portfolio and a timeline for conducting that research, identify facility and platform requirements as appropriate, provide rationales for suggested program elements, define dependencies between research objectives, identify terrestrial benefits, and specify whether the research product directly enables exploration or produces fundamental new knowledge.  These areas will be categorized as either those that are required to enable exploration missions or those that are enabled or facilitated because of exploration missions.
The decadal survey should:

• Define research areas that enable exploration missions or that are enabled by exploration missions;
• For each of the two categories above, define and prioritize an integrated life and physical sciences research portfolio and associated objectives;
• Develop a timeline for the next decade for these research objectives and identify dependencies between the objectives;
• Identify terrestrial, airborne, and space-based platforms and facilities that could most effectively achieve the objectives;
• Explain how the objectives could enable exploration activities, produce knowledge, or provide benefits to space and other applications;
• Identify potential research synergies between NASA and other U.S. government agencies, as well as with commercial entities and international partners; and
• Identify potential research objectives beyond 2020.

The results of the decadal survey will assist in defining and aligning life and physical sciences research to meet the needs of exploration missions. The recommendations regarding the timeline and sequence of research are intended to allow NASA to develop an implementation plan that will impact future exploration missions.  The survey should focus on the aforementioned tasks and should not recommend budgetary levels.  This decadal survey should build upon the findings and recommendations of previous National Academies’ studies conducted in this area.
Prior to the publication of the final report, a brief interim report will be developed that is intended to address near term challenges faced by NASA as it reorganizes its programs to comply with directions to NASA in the President’s FY 2011 Budget that substantially affect the conduct of ISS science in particular, and life and microgravity science in general.  The interim report will focus on issues identified by the steering committee that relate to:

1. ISS as a platform for conducting life and physical sciences research, and
2. Programmatic support of a healthy and sustainable life and physical sciences research program at NASA. 

The interim report will identify programmatic needs and issues to guide near-term decisions that are critical to strengthening the organization and management of life and physical sciences research at NASA. The interim report will also identify a number of broad topics that represent near-term opportunities for ISS research.  These areas, along with research more suited to other platforms, will be discussed in greater detail in the final report.  In addition to any relevant findings, the interim report may include recommendations to the extent that they are useful and that adequate justification for them can be provided in this short report. 

Study Plan

The purpose of this study is to develop a decadal strategy for research in life and physical sciences research in reduced gravity. Work on this study will be finalized in early 2011 and will culminate in a consolidated report developed by the Steering Committee, which will utilize input from seven Panels. An interim report will be issued in the summer of 2010.

This decadal study will consist of a Steering Committee of 18 members and seven focus Panels. These Panels will vary in size but will on average have eight members each, and each panel will address a targeted topic within the general topic of life and physical sciences research in reduced gravity. The focus area for each of these Panels will be determined by the Steering Committee at its first meeting in May 2009.

The following are examples of the areas of expertise likely to be incorporated into the various panels and/or the steering committee: fluid dynamics; heat and mass transfer; combustion; materials science; human physiology (bone and muscle development, immunology, endocrinology, cardiovascular systems, sensorimotor systems); developmental biology; plant biology; behavioral science; radiation effects; spacecraft power and propulsion systems; regenerative life support systems; in situ resource utilization; and power and energy storage systems.

Each of the seven Panels is expected to meet approximately three times each, and the steering committee will meet approximately five times during the course of the study. The committee and its panels will also work to obtain and incorporate broad community input to the study. 

Community Input

As noted in the study plan above, the committee will be seeking community input through both white paper submissions and Town Hall meetings. Community input to the decadal survey via participation in Town Hall meetings and generation of written white papers is strongly encouraged and is likely to play a critical role in the success of the survey. While the survey is a large endeavor, involving a steering committee plus seven focus panels, it is important to the steering committee and panels that as many people as possible within the community (who are not directly involved in the survey) have a means by which their opinions and thoughts on the survey are heard.

Panel Information

  • Animal and Human Biology Panel
  • Applied Physical Sciences Panel
  • Fundamental Physical Sciences Panel
  • Human Behavior and Mental Health Panel
  • Integrative and Translational Research for the Human System Panel
  • Plant and Microbial Biology Panel
  • Translation to Space Exploration Systems Panel

Committee Membership

Elizabeth R. Cantwell, co-chair
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Benjamin D. Levine
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
Wendy Kohrt, co-chair
University of Colorado, Denver
Rodolfo R. Llinas
New York University Medical Center
Lars Berglund
University of California, Davis
Kathryn V. Logan
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Nicholas P. Bigelow
University of Rochester

Philippa Marrack
National Jewish Health
Leonard H. Caveny
Independent Consultant

Gabor A. Somorjai
University of California, Berkeley

Vijay K. Dhir
University of California, Los Angeles
Charles M. Tipton
University of Arizona
Joel Dimsdale
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine

Jose L. Torero
University of Edinburgh

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Robert Wegeng
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Simon Gilroy
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Gayle E. Woloschak
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Staff & Contact Information

Sandra Graham
Study Director
Robert L. Riemer
Senior Program Officer
Alan Angleman
Senior Program Officer
Lewis Groswald
Research Associate

Maureen Mellody
Program Officer

Danielle Johnson
Senior Program Assistant
Regina North

Laura Toth
Senior Program Assistant

Ian Pryke
Senior Program Officer

Linda Walker
Senior Program Assistant


Eric Whittaker
Senior Program Assistant


Past Reports and Useful Links 
Next-Generational Suborbital Researchers Conference,
February 18-20, 2010, Boulder, CO
Review of NASA’s Biomedical Research Program (2000)
Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station (2006)A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the Next Century (1998)
Assessment of Directions in Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA (2003) Radiation Hazards to Crews of Interplanetary Missions: Biological Issues and Research Strategies (1996)
Factors Affecting the Utilization of the International Space Station for Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences (2003)Microgravity Research in Support of Technologies for the Human exploration and Development of Space and Planetary Bodies (2000)
Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station (2001)National Research Council Current Projects Page
Microgravity Research Opportunities in the 1990s (1995)NASA Report on International Space Station Science Accomplishments 2000-2008