Space Station:

Plans to Expand Research Community Do Not Match Available Resources

NSIAD-95-33: Published: Nov 22, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 27, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) efforts to develop a robust life and microgravity sciences research community for the space station, focusing on: (1) what NASA is doing to assess the required size of the research community needed for the space station and to ensure that such a community will be available; (2) how NASA will ensure that the research selected for the space station will be the best possible; and (3) whether the recently cancelled shuttle research flight adversely affected NASA efforts to develop a research community for the space station.

GAO found that: (1) NASA is focusing on developing a comprehensive research program that emphasizes more ground-based research and uses space flight only for research efforts that require a microgravity environment in space; (2) NASA wants to greatly increase the number of ground-based investigators to accomplish this program; (3) the science-oriented approach is reasonable, but funding levels could jeopardize it unless NASA adjusts its funding priorities so, to achieve its goal, NASA will need to increase funding for life and microgravity sciences research and analysis from fiscal years 1995 through 1999; (4) if NASA funding remains at expected levels, a smaller than desired number of ground investigators in the ground-based research program will be selected; (4) although peer review panels and NASA sometimes disagree on the scientific merit and relevance of NASA funding proposals, NASA funding decisions were generally consistent with the recommendations of the peer review panels; and (5) NASA efforts to increase the size of its life and microgravity sciences research community are not likely to be adversely affected by the cancellation of the third Spacelab Life Sciences flight, since most of the principal investigators have been accommodated on other space flights and generally will be able to meet their experiment objectives.

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