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NAS Calls Science Main Task in Space

CHICAGO—A new National Academy of Sciences report will recommend that basic science become "the principal objective of the space program." Speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas M. Donahue outlined some of the major recommendations of the Academy's Space Science Board report, entitled "Major Directions for Space Science: 1995-2015." Donahue is an astrophysicist at the University of Michigan and chairman of the Space Science Bo

By | March 9, 1987

CHICAGO—A new National Academy of Sciences report will recommend that basic science become "the principal objective of the space program."

Speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas M. Donahue outlined some of the major recommendations of the Academy's Space Science Board report, entitled "Major Directions for Space Science: 1995-2015." Donahue is an astrophysicist at the University of Michigan and chairman of the Space Science Board.

The two-year study, scheduled for release later this month, contains recommendations in the areas of fundamental physics and chemistry, planetary/lunar exploration, astronomy/astrophysics, Earth sciences, solar-space plasmas and life sciences.

Its recommendations include:

  • Development of a "Mission to Planet Earth" using five geosynchronous platforms and two to six polar platforms to study intensively the interior and exterior of Earth and the interaction between life forms and the planet;
  • Deployment of an eight- to 16-meter optical space telescope, a receiving surface several times larger than the one on the Hubble Space Telescope scheduled for launch in November 1988;
  • Development of a life support system "capable of supporting humans indefinitely at large distances from Earth;"
  • Study of the magnetospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune;
  • Adoption of a "strong Mars focus" for planetary exploration that "may require a human presence later in the 21st century;"
  • Study of bone loss, muscle atrophy and cerebrovascular deterioration due to extended time in space. The life sciences study group has concluded that "it would be imprudent even to plan extended missions until these serious medical issues are resolved," Donahue said.

The report will urge that basic science be the principal objective of the space program. "We propose that, as the nation considers its future in space, the advance of science and its applications to human welfare be adopted as the key objective."

Byrne is on the staff of The Scientist.

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