SMD Urged To Use Station

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WASHINGTON — With the White House having directed NASA to continue supporting the international space station at least through 2020, the agency is looking for ways to more fully utilize the facility as a host platform for scientific payloads and for testing instrument technologies in orbit.

The research could involve any number of scientific disciplines, including astronomy, astrophysics, Earth science and planetary exploration, according to Vernon Jones, senior scientist for suborbital research in the astrophysics division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD).

Jones was speaking July 8 during a meeting of a group of outside scientists who regularly advise NASA on astrophysics issues. The group is one of several subcommittees representing various scientific disciplines on the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee.

Jones says opportunities to use the space station for scientific investigations and technology development unrelated to microgravity research are not new, and that several examples of such utilization are already under way, including the Alpha-Magnetic Spectrometer planned to launch aboard the final space shuttle mission early next year.

“Here’s an asset that’s been extended for several years that in the past hasn’t been used, and is there usability for the science area?” Jones said.

Jones said the space station provides a good platform for a variety of non-microgravity science and technology payloads because it offers mounting points for large instruments, moderate stability, ample power and high-bandwidth communications capabilities. He said all four of the NASA Advisory Council’s Science subcommittees had been asked to propose potential science and technology research ideas to the full committee in advance of a public meeting scheduled July 13 in Washington.

Earlier this decade NASA dramatically scaled back the research to be conducted aboard the space station, choosing to focus the station’s resources primarily on the science related to long-duration human spaceflight.