In NASA Science, the Space Biology program is part of the Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) Division. Our main priority in space biology is research that will enable organisms to Thrive In DEep Space (TIDES). These efforts will focus on determining the effects of multiple deep-space stressors (e.g., radiation & reduced gravity) on model organisms. As human exploration prepares to go beyond Low Earth Orbit, this work will support animal research and enable us to better understand human responses to the deep-space environment. The plant research will support human exploration in a variety of ways including through the eventual production of micronutrients and food during deep-space missions and enhancing behavioral health. The goal of the TIDES initiative is to enable long-duration missions and improve life on Earth through innovative research.

Our research aims to build a better understanding of how spaceflight affects living systems in spacecraft such as the International Space Station (ISS), or in ground-based experiments, and to prepare for future human exploration missions far from Earth. The experiments we conduct on these platforms examine how astronauts, plants, and animals regulate and sustain their growth in space. We examine processes of metabolism, reproduction, and development. We study how organisms repair cellular damage and protect themselves from infection and disease in conditions of microgravity. And we do it across the spectrum of biological organization, from molecules to cells, from tissues and organs, and from systems to whole organisms.

Our program’s core objectives include:

  • Discover how biological systems respond, acclimate and adapt to the space environment
  • Develop integrated physiological models for biology in space
  • Identify the underlying mechanisms and networks that govern biological processes in the space environment
  • Promote open science through the GeneLab Data System and Life Sciences Data Archive
  • Developing cutting-edge biological technologies to facilitate spaceflight research
  • Generate mechanistic data to support human health in space
  • Enable the transfer of knowledge and technology to the understanding of life on Earth

In addition to providing useful information on how living organisms adapt to spaceflight, the discoveries we make in space have enormous implications for life on Earth. Our research into the virulence of infections in space, bone density, and the growth of plants can impact the development of drugs that promote wound healing, treatments designed to counter osteoporosis on Earth, and high-tech fertilizers that increase crop yield. And that’s just the beginning.

NASA’s Physical Science Research Program has made contributions in two distinct areas: first, fundamental research, which investigates physical phenomena in the absence of gravity and fundamental laws of the universe, and provides new knowledge of scientific value and societal benefit, and second, applied research, which contributes to the basic understanding underlying space exploration technologies such as power generation and storage, space propulsion, life support systems, and environmental monitoring and control. Both have led to improved space systems or new products on Earth.

Our core objectives include:

  • Investigate fundamental laws of physics, often using either microgravity or interplanetary distances as research tools
  • Provide mechanistic understanding of processes underlying space exploration technologies such as power generation and storage, space propulsion, life support systems, and environmental monitoring and control
  • Support the transfer of knowledge and technology of space-based research to terrestrial systems to benefit life on Earth
  • Developing cutting-edge technologies to facilitate spaceflight research
  • Promote open science through data sharing

The International Space Station provides the highly desired condition of long-duration microgravity, allowing continuous and interactive research similar to Earth-based laboratories, even providing statistical validity when required. The program also has benefited from research collaborations with the International Space Station partners (Russia, Europe, Japan, Canada) and individual foreign governments with space programs, such as France, Germany and Italy.

NASA’s physical science research is organized into six disciplines – Biophysics, Combustion Science, Complex Fluids, Fluid Physics, Fundamental Physics and Materials Science. Conducted in a nearly weightless environment, experiments in these disciplines reveal how physical systems respond to the near absence of buoyancy-driven convection, sedimentation or sagging. They also reveal how other forces, such as capillary forces, which are small compared to gravity, can dominate the system behavior in space. The data acquired from these investigations is stored in NASA's Physical Sciences Informatics System (PSI) and is available to the public.

If you are a researcher and interested in learning more about NASA’s Physical Sciences program, please contact Dr. Brad Carpenter for fundamental physics, and Dr. Fran Chiaramonte for all other disciplines and PSI.

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