The European Space Agency's newest batch of astronauts, announced last week, includes scientist Andrè Kuipers. When Kuipers takes to orbit in the International Space Station for eight days next October, he will have a suite of some 15–20 biomedical experiments to perform for his Earth-bound colleagues.

There was a time, only five years ago, when the biomedical community did not take space-based experimentation seriously. Slowly that has changed as the space agencies have responded to criticism and made the grant application and peer review processes more rigorous.

Currently, the European Space Agency (ESA) is in the process of evaluating which of the proposals received in response to its announcement of opportunity earlier this year will fly. All those in contention have passed scientific peer review and are considered to be broadly compatible with space-based research.

There are practical limitations on the kinds of experiments that can be undertaken. For example,...

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