International Space Station - Hindsight, Insight, Foresight

At the very bottom of this page is a presentation called ISS - Hindsight, Insight, Foresight that was presented to San Jose State University.  It is a summary of the Space Portal's and ACES findings from five Workshops exploring the research, commercial and public benefits that can result from correct use of the International Space Station as the first National Laboratory Beyond Earth.  See:  Workshops and Conferences for more information.

The article below The Biotech Revolution in Space is from AIAA's Space 2006 Conference.

Also See Space 2.0

Also See RosettaSpace

AIAA Space 2006

The Biotech Revolution in Space

Lynn D. Harper , Daniel J. Rasky , Greg Schmidt
NASA Ames Research Center

James Grady  and Bruce Pittman
Alliance for Commercial Enterprises in Space

Biotech can serve as an anchor tenant for exploring a new entrepreneurial paradigm for space.  This paradigm depends on successfully developing three elements:  the biotech community as new paying customers for commercial space services, a new customer-centric focus to orbital laboratories and space access, and the emerging entrepreneurial space industries to provide needed services at the quality and price the customers are willing to pay. 

Forty years of government investment in the space biosciences has repaid the American public many times over by producing life saving advances and commercially lucrative products whose current market value is more than $2B per year.  Today, because of the advances spawned by the Human Genome Project, the promise of new life saving and wealth generating products from space biosciences research is even greater. 

The ISS and emerging entrepreneurial orbital space laboratories provide ideal platforms for further biotech development because together they offer the opportunity for short learning cycles and rapid iteration; both of which fuel discoveries in contemporary biotech.  The case studies used to inform these conclusions address some of the highest priority health issues in the U.S. today.

The success of contemporary biotech rests on high throughput research -- high yield, high quality, high data generation and rapid investigations and analyses.  “Fail fast, fail often; learn fast, learn often” is the mantra of the highly competitive pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.   For these reasons, biotech could be the type of “frequent fliers” that the emerging space industries need to close their business cases. 

However, as currently configured, neither the ISS nor private space companies are user friendly enough or fly frequently enough to provide the throughput needed to attract biotech customers.  Case studies conducted over the past year suggest that guaranteed delivery of 12 middeck equivalents monthly to and from ISS or other space laboratories might be the catalyst needed to open a potentially lucrative new customer base for emerging space industries.

The pool of highly qualified lean,  agile, entrepreneurial space companies is growing.  They have the potential, as yet unrealized but developing rapidly, to deliver a wide range of customer packages at attractive prices for in-space biosciences research.  These services include launch, cargo delivery of live cargo to ISS or other orbital laboratories, on-orbit laboratory services, a dedicated biosciences laboratory, and sample returns.  Delivering the services needed to make biotech a paying customer are the same services needed to accelerate space medicine and realize the science potential of low Earth orbit for a wide range of discovery based sciences, technologies, and applications.
This paper explores the capabilities necessary to reach a "tipping point" for space biotech. 

I.  Background

In the 1960’s, the United States launched over 70 rockets in a single year.1   In 2005, despite more than 40 years of experience and vastly better tools, the United States successfully launched only 15 rockets.  Of those, 6 were commercial launches, 4 were military launches, and 5 were NASA missions. 2  With more than 15 launch companies operating in the United States aggressive marketing of space services by Russian and European space agencies, and the emergence of Japan, China and India into the space launch arena, the U.S. space industry is in trouble. 3  Faced with declining launch rates and International Traffic in Arms Regulations4 that seriously impede sales overseas, coupled with businesses too small to absorb significant reductions in demand, third tier suppliers to the space industry are in crisis. 5.6  Given the existing surplus of launch capability worldwide and the number of new companies and countries entering the launch business, those interested in the success of space ventures must significantly increase attention and resources on amplifying demand for space products and services.

NASA was the primary engine for developing laboratory based commercial space markets until 2004-2006 when the Agency cancelled the Space Biology Program, the Materials Sciences Program, and the Cellular Biotech Program and terminated grants to its Research Partnership Centers. 7  These programs supplied the investment, expertise, and demonstrations necessary to attract new customers for space enterprises.  Without a high-risk investor to enable pioneering demonstrations of value and feasibility and expert guides to support novice customers in executing successful space endeavors, important new markets necessary for a robust U.S. commercial space economy are unlikely to develop. 

A.  Potential New Market: Commercial Space Biotech

Forty years of investment in the space biosciences has paid for itself many times over in life saving advances and commercially lucrative products whose current market value is more than $2B per year.  These range from intensive care wards, artificial hearts, and unique new tools for medical research to a wide variety of micro-electro-mechanical systems applications that can be found in standard automobiles and homes.8 Because of extraordinary discovery power provided by the technical offspring of the Human Genome Project, the promise of new life saving and wealth generating products from space research is even greater today than it has been in the past. 9  Space flight data obtained over the past ten years illustrate the value, with additional confirmation provided by terrestrial analogs of space flight that are increasingly used for pharmaceutical development on Earth.  Between June 2005 and June 2006, the NASA Ames Research Center Space Portal, the Alliance for Commercial Enterprises in Space, the Innovative Partnerships Program, the California Space Grant Foundation, the Exploration Life and Microgravity Sciences Coalition, and the Association for Gravitational and Space Biology investigated the potential for commercial biotech acting as an “anchor tenant” for the emerging entrepreneurial space industry.10 The case studies used to inform these conclusions address some of the highest priority health issues in the U.S. today.11 

Why Space for Biotech? 

Orbital space provides six orders of magnitude reduction in gravity, which is one of the fundamental organizing forces of evolution.  Of all the environmental variables that changed to shape the evolution of life on Earth, gravity did not change.  So, the emergence of life into the microgravity of orbital space is evolutionarily novel. Novel environments reveal novel biologies that often provide medical and other important commercial applications.   The opportunities for basic and applied bioscience discoveries in space are profound: Now is the first chance to explore the biology of the only life in the universe we know in its first generations beyond the planet of origin with the powerful new tools of the biotech revolution.12

In addition to offering novel biological responses, the low gravity environment of space offers significantly improvements in the growth of three-dimensional tissues, organs, and complex protein structures that underlie drug discovery and the production of life saving and wealth generating medicines.13   This is well documented in the professional literature.14  Small middeck-sized space biolabs and biosatellites can be used to develop and test new intellectual property products for high yield markets, especially in infectivity research, tissue/organ cultures and products, techniques for combating some of the debilitating effects of aging, and new agricultural products.15   Together, these three areas address many of the world’s most serious medical issues and tap into a total available market valued at more than $100B annually.  The American biotech industry is currently investing approximately $10B per year in basic research in these areas.16

Because they reduce misleading variables, good cell and tissue cultures and adequate quantities of medically important protein crystal structures can reduce the time it takes to determine the cause of a disease and reduce the time it takes to develop effective pharmaceutical solutions by years, saving lives and millions of dollars in the process. 17   But the value of a cell or tissue culture depends entirely on how well that culture mimics the dynamics of cells and tissues resident in three-dimensional structures inside the body. 

On Earth, the size and quality of tissue and organ cultures is limited by Earth’s gravity.  In space, this obstacle is removed. The results of the few cell and tissue culture investigations conducted in space were very promising.  A terrestrial analog of space illustrates the potential utility of space for three-dimensional tissue cultures. 

The Rotating Wall Vessel (also called the Space Bioreactor), developed by the Johnson Space Center to simulate the effects of microgravity on cells and tissues, is now the central technology of a new company Synthecon which has now sold more than 29,000 units worldwide and is enjoying an increase in demand with a customer base that includes such prestigious research organizations as the National Institutes of Health.18 

A similar story emerges for protein crystallization in space.  When adequate quantities of biologically important proteins can be crystallized, precise knowledge of their structure leads to important pharmaceutical products.  It has been shown that when these types of crystals are grown in space, they are often superior in quality and quantity to terrestrially grown crystals.  Experts believe that space grown crystals have a high potential to enable crystallization of proteins that so far have eluded successful crystallization on Earth.  These protein crystals can accelerate the development of drugs to combat some of the top priority diseases in the world. 19

A wide range of investors are becoming attracted to the high humanitarian value of the space biosciences, the opportunity to be an early adopter into what could become a major new field, and the monetary value of new pharmaceuticals.  The government can invest in this endeavor because of its potentially high payoff for public health.  Philanthropists have become intrigued in the space biosciences because of the potential humanitarian benefits, the opportunity for exciting new scientific discoveries, and the novelty of space endeavors. 

Highly competitive pharmaceutical companies have already paid to conduct research in space to gain first access to novel information that may give them an edge in the development of important new products. 20, 21   Insurance foundations seeking more cost effective solutions to expensive-to-treat diseases are another potential source of support for space biotech endeavors, as are other private national health foundations seeking new approaches for cures.

So given this attractive scenario, why aren’t biotech companies and investors clamoring for access to space?

A Customer Centric Focus That Supports The Customer’s Culture Is Needed

Biotech runs on high throughput: high yield, high quality, high data generation, rapid investigations and rapid analyses.   This is good news for space entrepreneurs.  The biotech industry can be the commercial space industry’s next “frequent flier.” However, as currently configured, the ISS and commercial space systems are not yet sufficiently user friendly, nor do they fly often enough,  to provide the throughput needed to attract a paying biotech customer. 

When analyzing why space biosciences has not yet become a commercial market, the low launch rate was by far the largest factor. Monthly delivery of middeck equivalent laboratories capable of supporting research on cells, tissues and small organisms to and from orbit may be the minimum delivery rate needed to open this field for commercial development.

Further, the “learn fast, learn often” biotech culture means that customers must get their samples back from space as quickly as possible after the test is completed. At present, the ISS is the only orbiting laboratory. The process for ISS manifesting can be daunting to biotech companies.  Worse, samples are (in the best case) sent to ISS and returned to Earth on roughly 90-day intervals.  Rapid sample return is as important to developing commercial space biotech as frequent flights are in opening this new customer base. 22

Finally, no one on Earth conducts biological research under the conditions encountered during space travel.   Over the past 30 years, the biggest challenge to developing space biosciences was the difficulty in learning how to conduct high quality investigations that controlled for launch stresses, unusual environmental variables, long delays for sample return, and changes of gravity during re-entry and landing. 

Space bioscientists had just begun delivering the quality of research necessary for important advances when NASA cancelled all life sciences programs not directly supporting astronaut health.  A commercial biotech customer will need expert guides in order to obtain the data that justifies the cost of space access and services.  Entrepreneurial space must provide the expertise necessary to help novice pharmaceutical researchers, who have no experience in space investigations, succeed.

Entrepreneurial Space Industries Can Provide The Necessary Throughput  

The pool of qualified lean agile entrepreneurial space companies is growing.  They have the potential, as yet unrealized but developing rapidly, to deliver a wide range of customer packages at attractive prices for in-space biosciences research. 23   These services can include launch, cargo delivery including biological specimens to ISS, on-orbit laboratory services, a dedicated biosciences laboratory, and return of bio-payloads back to Earth.   Because the biotech revolution delivers high yield products in automated small packages, free flyer biolabs can also open new customer opportunities and increase launch opportunities.

The Space Portal at the NASA Ames Research Center in collaboration with the Alliance for Commercial Enterprises in Space sponsored five workshops to explore the "tipping point" for commercial space. Participants included space entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, traditional space customers, potential new customers, and domain experts.  Together, they developed strategies with near term practical advances that could demonstrate the value of in-space biosciences research within the constraints of the NASA budget and demands on Space Shuttle and Space Station resources, if augmented by the capabilities emerging from an increasingly successful entrepreneurial space industry.  The nature of the paradigm shift would be a bridge of NASA/commercial partnerships that will take us from the NASA-Only operation in space today to a future where endeavors involving humans in space may be NASA only, commercial only, or NASA/commercial partnerships.22

For example, NASA's commitment to contract with commercial firms for cargo deliveries to ISS can be the catalyst for evolving monthly flights of biotech cargos to ISS for paying customers.   The following list of companies, while presented to illustrate the growing maturity and diversity of the entrepreneurial space community to support a new market in space biotech, is neither a complete list of all qualified companies, nor is it an endorsement of one company over another.   Nonetheless, companies like Rocketplane/Kistler, SpaceX, SpaceHab and Constellation Services Inc. are developing the capabilities to deliver cargo, including live cargo, to ISS.  NASA selected both SpaceX and Rocketplane/Kistler for funding in the COTS program. 23 Some of these companies may also develop the capability to deliver free flying automated biolabs to orbit. Companies like BioServe, Orbitec, SHOT, Lockheed-Martin, and others have flight qualified space biolab hardware on the shelf and could lease on-orbit laboratory services to interested customers.  BioServe, for example, has a long track record of providing the type of customer support needed to help new space bioscience researchers conduct effective investigations in space. 24 Companies like Tether Applications Inc. have developed feasible and relatively low cost approaches for returning biological samples from space  “on demand”. 25

B. The New Paradigm.

Early concepts for commercial involvement in ISS or in-space commercial activities envisioned companies paying to use orbital manufacturing facilities to exploit the unusual features of the microgravity environment to create new products in situ. This vision has never been realized for a variety of reasons and is not proposed here.
Over the past fifteen years, several commercial biotechnology experiments have been conducted in space. The product of value is not in-space manufacturing, but knowledge in the form of patentable intellectual property based on space research that results in a new or improved product.

It is important to emphasize that while the promise of space biotech is exciting, more ground and flight research is necessary to validate sufficiently the value proposition and to demonstrate that the necessary throughput and quality can be achieved before attempting to persuade biotech companies and traditional investors to commit the millions of dollars per flight that commercial biotech investigations would require.

Nonetheless, five case studies were examined to profile the major opportunities foreseen:  protein crystallization, cell and tissue cultures, infectivity, aging, and agriculture.  This is not  a complete list.   


Protein Crystallization. 

Protein Crystallography is an increasingly important tool for determining the three-dimensional structures of proteins. Once a pharmaceutical company has this information, it is able to design more effective medicines by targeting specific proteins, which either cause disease, cure disease, or act as a homing beacon for the delivery of a therapeutic agent.  This approach has become standard in present-day drug design.  High-resolution structures of target proteins are often the basis for an entire drug development program. Protein structures suited for drug design are almost exclusively derived from crystallographic studies, and drug developers are relying heavily on the power of this method. 26

Today there are a total of 17 Centers for High-throughput Structural Genomics throughout the world (9 in the USA).27  The combined average success rate for obtaining crystals from just the soluble proteins after expression is approximately 33%.  However, the combined average success rate for obtaining three-dimensional structures is below 6%.  Thus, the majority of crystals obtained, (for the thousands of proteins being subjected to crystallization trials), are not of sufficient quality to result in a structural solution.  The review paper by Craig Kundrot clearly shows that if a protein is flown on more than three space flights, one of those flights will yield crystals of improved quality in more than 40% of the cases studied, when compared to the best crystals ever grown on Earth (1-g) by any method.28   It is important to realize that, in every case, the microgravity data from one Space Shuttle flight (average of 10 days for growth) was compared to the very best data/results from years of Earth-based laboratory work with typically thousands of experiments performed using different crystallization methods and multiple protein batches.  In a few of the cases, the space crystals were recently grown for long durations on the ISS.  The longer growth times (typically 3 months on ISS) allowed crystals to reach the sizes necessary for in-depth structural analysis.  The number of space experiment chambers allotted for any protein sample averaged 10 to 15 (because of the limited number of experimental chambers) using only one purified protein batch.   Kundrot, et. al, showed that there is a direct correlation between the success rate and the number of times a protein is flown.  In addition, crystals grow more slowly in a micro-gravity environment, often requiring much more than ten days to complete their growth.  Thus, the majority of the space shuttle comparisons were performed with microgravity-grown crystals that were smaller than their Earth-grown counterparts, yet they diffracted to higher resolution.  In spite of the odds being stacked against obtaining a favorable outcome for the microgravity research, it is clear that this unique environment does have a positive effect on crystal quality and resolution.

Cell And Tissue Cultures In Space. 

As stated earlier, good cell/tissue cultures can accelerate discovery of the causes of and cures for diseases by years.  This can potentially save millions, if not billions, of dollars that would be spent on unproductive research and health care costs.  It can also generate 100 of millions or even billions of dollars of revenue while saving lives.  But the value of a cell/tissue culture depends on how well the culture mimics what really happens in the body.  For many diseases on Earth, there are no good cell/tissue culture models – yet.   Space appears to hold one of the keys to this problem.

Over a decade ago, transplant surgeon Timothy Hammond, M.D. was searching for a tissue culture model for kidney disease.  Kidney disease is one of the most expensive diseases to treat because there are basically only two treatment options for advanced kidney disease -- dialysis or transplant.  Kidney disease increases with age and so is rising as a national health cost as baby boomers age.   Approximately one hundred thousand people per year are diagnosed with kidney failure in the US and this country spends $20 billion/year treating this disease. There was no good cell/tissue culture for kidney disease until Hammond connected with what is currently known as the Biological Systems Office (BSO) at NASA Johnson Space Center. Hammond collaborated with Dr. Neil Pellis, subsequently the Co-Director of the Cell Biology program, and was introduced to the JSC-developed Rotating Wall Vessel (RWV).

The RWV was invented by David Wolf, M.D./astronaut, Ray Schwarz, and Tinh Trinh (NASA Inventors of the Year Award, 1992) to mimic the effects of microgravity on cells.  Hammond’s results were dramatic.  Kidney tissues grown in the RWV began to re-acquire their three dimensional structure and biochemistry, which was missing in standard terrestrial cultures.   Some of the biochemical products were commercially important, like Vitamin D3, megalin, and cubulin.  Electron microscopy of the cells showed that the microvilli, an important characteristic of kidney cells in the body but absent in standard cultures, returned in abundance.  The team reasoned that if the RWV was good, then space was the gold standard. Three additional pioneering investigations in space corroborated  the earlier findings in the RWV and showed even greater promise.  These results were published in prestigious peer reviewed journals. 29, 30, 31 As a result of both the RWV and earlier space flight results, Stelsys, the entrepreneurial arm of Johnson and Johnson, became the first paying customer on the ISS.

The reason the space environment and RWV yield such improvements in cell cultures is because they more closely approximate the “cues” given cells as they grow in the body.   Space – and to a lesser extent the RWV – allow the three-dimensional structure of the tissues to emerge.  In space, it occurs because nutrients and wastes can be circulated via gentle mixing that better mimics the movement of fluid in the body.  This allows much larger cell aggregates to form and 3-dimensional structures to emerge, along with biochemical processes that closer approximate the dynamics in the living body.  The RWV also reduces shear and turbulence in the mixing process, thus providing a gentler growth environment, also allowing better three dimensional growth of cells and tissues.

The biotech revolution allows researchers to read the genomic instructions of how cells grow in the space environment and to correlate these instructions with their physiological meaning.  Companies can then take this information and, using contemporary biotech tools, engineer the organisms and systems needed to replicate the results on Earth.
The reason this is important is because most diseases and cures are not single element events.  Rather they are a combination and sequence of signals, transduction of environmental data, genomic instructions, protein responses, and feedback.  Fortunately, the biotech revolution has produced superminiaturized analytical instruments that can tease out these causal relations.  By sheer luck, these are remarkably easy to adapt for deployment on the ISS for in situ analyses.  In addition, samples can be fixed or flash frozen and returned to Earth for subsequent examination by the world’s most powerful analytical techniques.  Use of both sample preservation techniques will be required to provide a facility that is interesting and viable to a paying commercial biotech customer.  The hardware needed to conduct this research is currently available in some cases, and approaching 80% complete in others.


An unexpected finding was that some bacterial cultures grown in the RWV exhibited a significant increase in virulence.  Genomic and proteomic analysis revealed that the increased infectivity was caused by mechanisms that were not predicted by prevailing infectivity theories.  The results indicated that research in this deadly and expensive medical area was not being completely informed – partly but importantly because of limitations in culture techniques.32, 33, 34  


Cultures grown in the RWV for cancer, liver, brain, colon, bone, muscle, and other tissues have shown similar superior results, all of which are highly relevant to problems of aging.
One of the most intriguing (and as yet minimally investigated areas) is the role of space research in providing insights that can help combat the negative results of aging using a whole organism perspective.  From mouse to human, when mammals live in space for a long period of time, they lose bone mass and muscle mass, experience cardiovascular deconditioning, vestibular disturbances, hormonal imbalances, immune suppression, brain repatterning, and balance problems.  One of the few times all of these things change together in this way is during the aging process.  However, space crews (as well as rodents) recover after they return to normal gravity.  It is now possible to compare the processes of aging with the processes of space deconditioning by examining the changes that begin the process, the cells changed by it, and the resulting impact on tissues, organs, systems, and eventually the whole organism.  This particular class of work, important to every person on Earth, would require the iterative live animal studies enabled by long duration laboratories.35


Millions of dollars are spent each year to rid paper mills of lignin, a key structural component in plants.  The ecological burden is so significant that paper companies developed gene “knock-outs” to the major plants used in paper production in the hope of finding the gene that controls lignin production.  A knockout is a genetically engineered strain that eliminates (knocks out) a single gene.  Then the role of that gene can be determined in theory and sometimes in practice.  However, this problem is not that simple.  Lignin is produced by a complex ensemble of genes whose action is turned on and off in different patterns over time.  In space, lignin production is significantly reduced but the genomic patterns can be revealed.  By knowing the genomic choreography by which this occurs, new strains can be engineered on Earth to save millions in processing and environmental remediation costs.36

II. Realizing the Potential

The history of space life sciences shows that investments in this field are repaid many times over.  The potential for life saving advances identified for future applications is already very large and there are hints of even greater value in areas that have not yet been adequately explored.  The potential for wealth generation is great as is the potential for life saving advances.  Biotech success depends on frequent flights, making biotech an ideal partner for entrepreneurial space developers.  The ISS, which was designed for an orbiting biosciences laboratory, is on-orbit now.  Biotech research hardware needed to conduct pioneering investigations in space are flight qualified and ready for deployment – some critical pieces of equipment are already on board ISS.  An expert group of space biologists and engineers is immediately available to help guide a new customer community towards success.  So why isn’t space biotech developing rapidly right now? Some of the critical factors are discussed below.

Prove the Case. 

Lives and billions of research dollars are at stake so there is an understandably non-negotiable requirement to prove the science case to very high standards.  Certain demonstration projects must be conducted before cautious biotech companies will be willing to purchase flight opportunities.  Given the potential public health benefits, either the government or philanthropic organizations will need to fund further validation because the case is not yet ready for commercial development or traditional venture capital investment.  These conditions make it a uniquely suited to governmental support because of the still high cost of space access and services and the still pioneering nature of space biotech.   NASA, rather than NIH, may still be the best organization to lead this area because the necessary demonstrations and proofs must occur in space.  In the government, only NASA has the necessary expertise to carry out critical validation tasks.  The Space Act empowers NASA to assume this role.  Another possibility is collaboration among NASA, NIH, Department of Commerce, and perhaps a philanthropic pool to identify, guide, and fund the most promising demonstration projects.

Shorten the Learning Cycles For Space Flight Investigations. 

As mentioned earlier, in order for biotech to realize the potential that zero gravity offers, the necessary throughput required to support iterative science must be provided.  One of the key factors that enabled the biotech industry to progress so far so fast was that the biotech revolution enables very quick learning cycles.  A learning cycle is defined as the time it takes to define an experiment, develop the necessary hardware and protocols, perform the experiment and analyze the resulting data and prepare for the next cycle.  Typical learning cycles in biotech are measured in hours, days or weeks.  Historically, the learning cycles for space biotech experiments were measured in years.  Approximately monthly access to space is required to open this market.

Help New Customers Conduct Successful Space Research and Development Activities

No one conducts biological research on Earth the way it must be done in space.  All parts of the space experience are profoundly different from any type of terrestrial biological research – which is the source of both the opportunities and the impediments.  Expert guides are needed to translate a commercial investigation that works successfully on the ground into an investigation that works in the unusual environment of space, and under the unusual accommodations and constraints of space laboratories.  Today, the time and effort that a company must invest in getting an investigation to space is great, the paperwork burden crippling, and the space environment itself fraught with opportunities for experimental error that can invalidate the investigation’s potential.  Unless this is corrected, companies will pursue other avenues.  The nation needs an organizations that will act as a bridge between space biotech customers and space service providers, but focused on serving the customer as their highest priority. Without this type of customer service, biotech will not invest research dollars in space.

Return Space Samples to Earth Frequently 

No matter how sophisticated on-orbit analysis is, Earth will always have a wider range of analytical options. For discovering the complex cause-and-effect relationships of microgravity biology, return of samples to Earth is mandatory and must be frequent: weekly or monthly if possible. Further, samples fixed with biological preservatives begin to degrade after a few weeks and flash frozen samples (< –80°C) must be stored in on-board Dewars that have similar shelf-life limitations

Today, the only way to get samples back from space is in the Shuttle or in Soyuz.  However, there are other possible options.  Russian biosatellite free flyers have been returning samples from space for more than 40 years.  Tether Applications Inc. has developed an affordable concept for delivering small payloads from orbit to selected ground sites on an “on-demand” basis.  This is a very solvable problem, but funds must be provided to realize the solution.


III. Conclusion

In order to acquire sufficient funds to implement President Bush’s inspiring vision for human explorations of the Moon and Mars, NASA plans to retire the Space Shuttle and complete construction of the International Space Station at the lowest feasible cost.   Meeting this objective is complicated because NASA’s success in delivering the knowledge and applications benefits it promised the public when fighting for the ISS budget during the 1990s and honoring its commitments to the international community is likely to affect the public’s (and Congress’s) willingness to invest a similarly large amount of money in human exploration of the planets. 

A desirable outcome is for the ISS to show the public important returns for their more-than-$30B investment in the orbiting laboratory.  This will require implementing productive, crewed space ventures to build NASA’s credibility for undertaking the considerably more difficult and expensive explorations of the Moon and Mars.  Therefore, over the next five years, NASA’s challenge is to deliver an ISS that enables exploration, returns benefits to humanity and meets its commitments to the nation and its international partners while creating an exit strategy that significantly reduces the financial burden for supporting the ISS.  Because it addresses such important areas of public health, space biotech on the ISS may play an important role in supporting the Vision for Space Exploration.

Finally, there is value in defining an exit strategy for NASA that encourages commercial space endeavors, collaborates with other government and philanthropic organizations to enable medically important research in space, and promotes a new market  for commercial development.  Increased access to space will result in lower costs and greater opportunities for all users: government, private enterprise, academia, entertainment, and education.   For all these reasons, space biotech should be considered a potential catalyst for accelerating a new space economy.


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Lynn Harper,
Dec 10, 2008, 6:46 PM
Lynn Harper,
Dec 10, 2008, 6:49 PM
Lynn Harper,
Dec 10, 2008, 6:49 PM
Lynn Harper,
Dec 10, 2008, 6:50 PM