Vol. 4 No. 3 March 27,2000
HEARING REVIEWS NASA MICROGRAVITY PLAN
Few new microgravity research opportunities in space have been made available to researchers the past few years and as a consequence there is little new to report. Most of the discussion at the House hearing (3/22) on the Administration' s budget in FY 2001 for NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications (OLMSA) which would increase to $302.4 million from $274.7 million, focused on past discoveries and the need for more access to space.
NASA has set aside a third of the space station for commercial activities, yet allocates less than 10 percent of the budget to validate commercial technologies. NASA also recently introduced a pricing structure for commercial microgravity experiments, a long awaited effort by the commercial space community. Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said the consolidation of the space station research account with the Human Space Flight account made it easier to transfer research funds into space station development. The California Congressman said he is "deeply concerned about the impact of the past Transfers of funds have had- and will have- on the research potential of the ISS."
Congress appropriated $50 million for a microgravity Space Shuttle mission. But Mr. Rohrabacher said "There isn't any indication from NASA that such a flight will take place. What is it going to take to get this additional flight launched?" Without opportunities to conduct research in space, NASA will not be able to attract and keep top quality people involved in microgravity research", Mr. Rohrabacher said.
Following are other highlights in the hearing testimony: Dr. Nicogossian, the head the OLMSA, said "We have learned that Gravity affects the way human genes function. Gene array analysis of human kidney Cell genes showed that more than 1600 genes in the kidney cells changed their regulation in microgravity demonstrating that there is a select group of gravity dependent genes."
In FY 2001, NASA plans to fund an estimated 986 investigators, of which 160 will involve flight and flight-definition research. According to Dr. Mary Osborn, a member of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board, "our understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the human body is still fragmentary despite more than three decades of flight experience."
The "instabilities in the ISS budget are compromising equipment development," Dr. Osborn said. "If money is repeatedly siphoned off from hardware development work, the quality of the equipment on the ISS will be significantly below that of the cutting-edge hardware available on the ground....".
To advance life sciences at NASA, two components are needed, Dr. Jay Buckey, Research Associate Professor of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, testified. "One is an adequately funded, stable, ground-based research program composed of peer-reviewed studies. The other is access to space." For an adequate, peer-reviewed, ground-based research program", Dr. Buckey said the Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology (FASED) recommends Increasing funding for the program by $50 million.
David Kaufman, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, said "an indication of the quality of NASA-supported research is the fact that the scientists in [the Life Sciences Division] collectively published nearly 1,500 papers during a12-month period in 1998-99." Of the 450 grant applications NASA receives annually for research in this area, about 25-30 percent are judged meritorious, but only about 18 percent are supported due to budget constraints, Mr. Kaufman said.Dr. Richard Hodes, of the National Institute of Aging, provided an overview of NIA/NASA collaborations, including the Neurolab project.
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