Groups Seek to Enable Exploration, Retain National Space Biology Capability and Generate Public Benefits

(Washington DC) Space Biologists from around the country have been
making the rounds in Congress over the last two weeks, carrying a
common message: The anticipated Moon and Mars Missions under the Vision
for Space Exploration will require continued investments in robust life
sciences R&D at NASA.

A geographically diverse group from the AIAA Life Sciences Technical
Committee, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB)
including scientists, bioengineers, small business technology developers and
others, pointed out that FY06 NASA budget planning promises to eliminate the
majority of biological flight research. It also
reduces ground-based research to levels which essentially represents a
phasing out of the program. Space biologists are concerned that basic
insights into astronaut health issues will be negatively impacted by an
elimination of key research programs.

The collective expertise for conducting the necessary cutting-edge research
that resides in universities, companies and government labs represents a
unique national capability that advocates fear will be irretrievably lost if
the current pace of proposed cuts continues. This would be especially
grevious in the very decade when biotechnology and genomics capabilities hold
the promise of new high-value science at a reduced cost per payload.

The loss of medical and other public benefits from this R&D is also of
concern. NSF public opinion research indicates that public interest in space
is directly related to the existence of such benefits. The space biology
teams argued that the early and on-going return of such benefits would be
essential for sustaining public interest in space endeavors and NASA’s Vision
for Space Exploration.

Advocates reminded Congress that the President has already reaffirmed
that the first order of business in pursuing the Exploration Vision is
the completion of the International Space Station. (ISS), the targeted site
for much of this future research.

The current Shuttle manifest includes 28 flights to achieve “Assembly
Complete˜. Reports form credible sources in and around NASA indicate
that a serious effort is underway to reduce this number to 19 or less.
The impetus for this reduction is to retire the Shuttle early and
transfer funds from the Shuttle to the Exploration Program.
If the Shuttle is retired early, the Centrifuge Accommodation Module
(CAM) with its 2.5 meter Centrifuge will be cancelled (currently launch
of the CAM is scheduled for early 2009)

Proponents from a wide cross section of space biology have concluded
that the loss of the developing CAM to Space Biology and Biomedicine would be
similar to the Hubble never being launched for Astronomers. The Centrifuge is
a unique variable gravity research device: there is simply no way on the
ground to determine the long term risks of Lunar and Mars gravity to living
systems. In addition, key questions about the use of artificial gravity as a
countermeasure to the detrimental effects of long-term diminished gravity as
they apply to human explorers cannot be clearly answered without the

The FY06 budget also proposes canceling the last of the original
suite of biological research equipment planned for the ISS, the
Advanced Animal Habitat. (AAH). Hill briefings indicated that the AAH
is essential for research that simply cannot be done in space with
humans in crucial areas such as wound and fracture healing, drug
absorption, cell and molecular functioning in space and radiation

Life scientists also argue that in addition to shuttle and ISS, up mass
capability and research destinations will come on line, as the growing
private space entrepreuerial sector matures. Thus, the deferral of much space
life sciences research and the abrupt termination of Space Biology now, is
not justified in the context of the evolving international flight
capability and new emerging technologies which enable the research.

Deep concerns for space life sciences is also rocking relationships
with the Japanese ISS International Partner, JAXA. According to a
letter from a JAXA Head to NASA Headquarters, The Japanese space agency,
JAXA, has expressed “significant concerns˜ to NASA about potential negative
impacts of U.S. proposed changes to the ISS. In a February 15th letter to
NASA HQ, JAXA Executive Director Koji Yamamoto said that realignment of the
JAXA-developed ISS Centrifuge project “will negatively impact the on-going
ISS program’s credibility, which will lead to the loss of Japan’s public and
financial support, and will significantly affect Japan’s existing and future
collaboration with the US in the ISS and beyond because it underscores the
difficulties in those collaborations.”

NASA’s plan to limit future Shuttle flights has raised concerns that
the JAXA Centrifuge project will not be flown. In addition to the
Centrifuge, the CAM includes a JAXA-developed lab module and various racks
and instruments forstudying gravitational biology. JAXA believes that the
Centrifuge capabilitieswill uniquely support the expansion of human space
exploration˜, and offered to defend this claim to NASA planners.

The annual life sciences communications event with Congress comes on the
heels of the announcement of a new NASA Administrator, Mike Griffin.
Space biologists hope that the rapid program terminations will cease,
and provide the new Administrator an opportunity to review the
situation, before the science community is so eroded that the national
capability to conduct research and train the next generation of space biology
researchers is destroyed.

Note To Editors

For Further information please contact

Chris Brown (919 513 2457), President of the American Society for
Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB) or,

Kathleen Connell (954 561 5610), Vice Chair of the American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Life Sciences Technical Committee