“Construction delays and funding cuts jeopardize plans for microgravity research slated to begin aboard the International Space Station after 2006, says a new report from the National Academies’ Space Studies Board. NASA should stand ready to launch annual space shuttle missions dedicated to microgravity research if the station isn’t ready in time.”

Report: “Readiness Issues Related to Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences on the International Space Station (2001)”

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The International Space Station has been officially under development by NASA since
the late 1980s. Numerous changes in schedule and cost projections throughout the 1990s have
prompted reevaluations of the number and scale of the major facilities that would eventually be
placed on board; the schedule for developing, deploying, and utilizing those facilities; and the
critical resources such as crew time and power needed to support ISS science research. As a
result, specific concerns over schedule delays and potential downgrading of the ISS research
capabilities have been growing for several years in the scientific community. In the Fall of 2000,
Congress directed the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Public
Administration (NAPA) to organize a joint study of the status of microgravity research in the
life and physical sciences as it relates to the International Space Station (ISS). The study is
being conducted in two phases, and this phase-1 report addresses the question of the state of
readiness of the scientific community to use the ISS for life and physical sciences and an
assessment of the relative costs and benefits of dedicating an annual space shuttle mission for
research versus maintaining the schedule for assembly of the ISS.

Recent Changes to ISS Science Capabilities

Subsequent to the initiation of this study, NASA announced large cost overruns in the
construction of the ISS (congressional testimony, April 2001). As a consequence, major changes
were proposed by the agency in the ISS design that would reduce the total ISS crew capacity
from 6 or 7 to 3, and cancel or delay indefinitely the development and deployment of many of
the planned major research facilities. To accommodate both the possibility of a rescoped station
and the uncertainty regarding the actual extent of such a rescoping, the Task Group on Research
on the International Space Station chose to consider two alternate scenarios in developing its
conclusions. In the first scenario the task group assumed that the August 2000 design for ISS 1 ,
designated as Rev. F 2 by NASA, remained unchanged. Under Rev. F, ISS would support a full
crew of 6 to 7 astronauts and provide fully instrumented, dedicated facilities for research in a
range of science disciplines. In the second scenario the task group assumed that the design and
schedule changes contained in the proposed fiscal year 2002 budget for NASA were
implemented. The proposed changes would result in a 3-person crew and deletion or indefinite
delay of a large number of research facilities, supporting hardware, and experiment modules.
For convenience this scenario is referred to as “proposed Rev. G 3 in this report.

Readiness to Utilize ISS

The task group was extremely concerned about the schedules for the development and
deployment of ISS research facilities that were presented by NASA during the course of this
study. In the task group’s view, a fully equipped ISS – including adequate crew support,
electrical power, and experiment accommodations – needs to be in operation if scientific

objectives are to be achieved. Proposed reductions in crew size, facilities, and power have
caused great concern in the scientific community. Specific concerns expressed by groups
representing the ISS user community (Sekerka, 2001; Fettman, 2001; Katovich, 2001) have
strengthened this task group’s view that the future of science on the ISS would be severely
impaired under the proposed Rev. G scenario.

Based on a review of NASA’s program data – including ISS experiments planned, rates of
proposal submission, and success and student funding levels – as well as input from members of
the ISS user community, the task group reached the following conclusions:

  • The U.S. scientific community is ready now to use the ISS,
  • However, this readiness cannot be sustained if:
    • proposed reductions in the scientific capabilities of ISS occur, or
    • slippage continues in both the development and science utilization schedules for ISS as
      currently proposed, or

    • uncertainties continue in funding for science facilities and flight experiments on ISS.

Adding Annual Shuttle Missions for Laboratory Science

Proposed reductions in available experiment accommodations, crew, and power, raise
concerns about the ultimate functionality of ISS and thus directly affected the task group’s
consideration of whether additional shuttle flights dedicated to science should be flown during
ISS assembly and outfitting.

The task group concluded that ISS science could not proceed without the appropriate
crew support and a clearly defined time line for deployment and completion. If the present Rev.
F design and schedule were maintained, then it would be preferable to proceed with construction
of a fully equipped ISS, rather than to divert resources to fly ISS science on additional shuttle
missions. However, if ISS capabilities were to be reduced below Rev. F levels and there were no
annual microgravity research-dedicated shuttle flights, then the viability of the overall program
in microgravity research would be seriously jeopardized, as would the ability of NASA to
achieve its stated scientific goals for ISS. Therefore, if it becomes apparent that the ISS will not
be available for meaningful microgravity research by the beginning of FY2006, then annual
shuttle flights dedicated to microgravity experiments should be made a part of the program.

Specifically, the task group recommends that:

A) Assuming Rev. F schedule and capability are achieved, then:

1. If ISS development were to be the funding source for additional microgravity
shuttle flights, then no additional shuttle flights should be planned for
microgravity research.

2. If funding were to be provided from new sources, then it would be highly
beneficial to fly additional annual flights until ISS (with Rev. F capabilities)
is complete.

B) Assuming proposed Rev. G schedule and capability are selected, then:

1. If capabilities were to be reduced according to current projections, then
annual shuttle flights devoted to science should be flown until ISS reaches
either the research capability planned for “assembly complete” under Rev. F,
or a similar level of capability that has been reviewed and approved by an
independent body of scientists that can credibly represent the interests of the
ISS user community.

In case B above, it should be noted that plans to use the shuttle will need to be integrated
into the overall NASA mission planning by 2004. These recommendations also assume that the
currently planned space shuttle microgravity missions, STS-107 and STS-123 (R2), planned for
2002 and 2004 respectively, are conducted as scheduled. Also, the activities defined above
should not be accomplished in such a manner as to jeopardize the sustainability and readiness of
the program for microgravity research in the biological and physical sciences.

Footnotes

1 Still the official design at press time.

2 ISS Rev. F Assembly Sequence (8/00)

3 Though originally based on NASA’s draft Rev. G Assembly Sequence (4/01), NASA is currently
referring to this scenario as the 2002 Presidential Budget Submission.

References

Goldin, Daniel S. 2001. Statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science. April 4.

Available online at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/legaff/goldin4-4.html.

Fettman, Martin J. 2001. Letter to Mr. Joel Rothenberg on funding for the Space Station Biological Research

Project. Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. March 9.
Photocopy.

Katovich, Michael J. 2001. Letter to the Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski on funding for the Space Station

Biological Research Project. University of Florida, College of Pharmacy. June 28. Photocopy.
Sekerka, Robert F. 2001. Letter to the Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski on the level of ISS research funding.

Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Physics. June 27. Photocopy.