Published: 
Mar 12, 2020

Scientists Convene at ASGSR and Identify Critical Research Required to Support Moon and Mars Missions

The “planets are aligning” for the United States to make monumental leaps in research that both enables space exploration and is enabled by space exploration. Congressional and executive branch support for NASA’s Artemis program, as well as for future missions to Mars, has led to significant levels of opportunity for scientists and engineers who can now do more than imagine sustaining human life in deep space, they can help make it a reality.

NASA plans on sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 and enabling sustainable exploration by 2028. The Moon is a natural stepping-stone to Mars, and it is there the agency will demonstrate new technologies, capabilities and business approaches needed for exploration farther into the solar system.

Regolith and dust, deep-space and reflected radiation, reduced gravity, and a closed habitat are a few of the lunar features that will enable unique research opportunities on the Moon. Scientists will conduct experiments under these distinctive conditions to improve methods of fire safety; extract lunar water and oxygen; promote plant growth; enhance closed-loop life support systems and supporting technologies; mitigate the effects of dust on extravehicular activity (EVA) systems and suits, life support systems, and surface construction systems; develop technologies that facilitate the extraction, synthesis and processing of minerals, metals and other materials; and more.

Thus, there is a unified vision and high levels of collaboration across NASA directorates: Human Exploration and Operations, Science, and Space Technology. NASA is also engaging outside experts from other international partners, government agencies, commercial industry partners, and academia. The American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) helps facilitate collaboration and solicit new ideas.

ASGSR is a non-profit dedicated to promoting a multidisciplinary approach to research in space. Its members represent academia, government, and industry. The organization brings together a diverse group of scientists and engineers to exchange ideas that advance the understanding of how living organisms and physical systems respond to gravity and other aspects of the spaceflight environment. NASA’s participation in ASGSR’s annual conference in October 2019 focused on discussing specific experiments and findings that will influence the upcoming NASA missions.

“Spaceflight affects Earth-based biological and physical systems in many ways including altered gravity and deep space radiation,” says Dr. Craig Kundrot, director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences and Applications (SLPSRA) division. “Sustainable human exploration requires research to identify new ways to minimize the risks in spaceflight environments and to maximize the productivity of the missions.”

Landing astronauts on Mars will take great feats of engineering and technology. Sustaining life on another planet, as opposed to the short trips conducted during the Apollo program, also requires scientific advancements. Given the gravitational differences of the Moon and Mars, and the extended duration of space travel, conference participants discussed prioritizing the areas of research and study that could affect the safe transport of astronauts and the establishment of sustainable operations .

At the conference, top experts were joined by the next generation of scientists, ranging from high schoolers to graduate students. “The ASGSR conference presents a unique opportunity for rising scientists to share the results of their research and to learn the latest developments in their fields and in NASA’s planning,” continues Kundrot. “Our scientific successors will play a key role in continuing the fundamental research that needs to be done to not only get astronauts to and from the Moon and Mars, but also to help them stay — to grow food, recycle water, power a colony, and more.”

Next up in NASA’s mission preparation: the Decadal Survey for Life and Physical Sciences in Space. The survey will solicit the science community at large for white papers that will identify leading-edge scientific questions in these fields and the observations required to answer them. SLPSRA will then commission research resulting directly from the Decadal Survey recommendations.

Considerable work remains. Developing sustainable operations on the Moon and Mars requires the contributions of scientists representing a broad range of disciplines. It involves deep examination of the risks and challenges such missions can pose, as well as the means to mitigate them. Sustained exploration requires extensive collaboration across industry, academia, government, and international partners — when we go to the Moon, we go together. Thus, the ideas exchanged at ASGSR and the white papers submitted through the Decadal Survey will be instrumental in influencing and supporting NASA’s future missions.

Submit proposals for the Decadal Survey
Watch the 2019 ASGSR Annual Meeting webcast recording
Learn more about ASGSR
Learn more about NASA’S Artemis program
Stay informed on other exciting SLPSRA research initiatives

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