Science & Technology

Before They're Allowed in Space, Science Experiments Need to Meet These 3 Criteria

The only thing cooler than cutting-edge science experiments is doing those experiments in space. Career goals, anyone? But for the International Space Station (ISS), it's about more than just doing experiments in space for the sake of doing them in space (though, to be honest, that would be good enough for us). Every science experiment on the ISS must benefit life on Earth. And that's where CASIS comes in. It's the group working behind the scenes to decide what makes the cut.

Related Video: Astronauts Play Soccer on the International Space Station

This Research Is Goin' Places

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is something of a gatekeeper to the ISS U.S. National Lab and has been since 2012, thanks to Congress. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 called for a nonprofit organization to manage the National Lab on the ISS, and NASA selected the state of Florida and CASIS for the role.

"The thought process behind that was [Congress] wanted to open up research channels to a variety of researchers from the United States," said Patrick O'Neill, the Marketing Communications Manager for CASIS. "The research NASA was doing, while it was terrific and inspiring, was focused more strictly on exploration than for using the Space Station to benefit life on Earth."

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra performs experiments in the microgravity sciences glovebox aboard the International Space Station.

CASIS now works with NASA, SpaceX, and Orbital ATK on NASA's cargo resupply missions to the ISS. On those missions, half of the payload is reserved for the research, which comes from private companies and a variety of researchers that CASIS chooses. Once the goodies get up to "Station," as those in the know call it, half of the crew members' working time is dedicated to those experiments.

Clearly, CASIS is a key piece of the ISS National Lab puzzle. To get your research aboard these missions and up to the ISS for hardcore scienceing, it must meet CASIS's three criteria:

  1. It must be operationally feasible and safe. In other words, you have to make sure it's even possible aboard the ISS. *Scratches idea for blue whales in space research*.
  2. It must benefit life on Earth. You must be able to answer the questions, in O'Neill's words, "How can microgravity impact whatever it is that you're wanting to send to Station, and how can it possibly improve life on Earth?"
  3. It must have a reasonable return on investment for the American taxpayer. In other words, is the potential result of the research worth the cost of carrying it out? *Doubly scratches idea for the blue whales in space thing*.

Check the Seal

You want to get your research up to the ISS? Call CASIS. Seriously, when we said they work with a variety of researchers, we meant it. (Go here to get to the proposal submission form.) As a relatively new organization, they're all ears for hearing about any research that could benefit humans by going to space. They've worked with researchers to put things as bizarre as MRSA and strands from Chernobyl into space for research — and, hopefully, that's just the beginning.

For products that incorporate research done on the ISS, CASIS has trademarked the "Space Is In It" seal to call out that fact. "We're starting to see a lot of commercial companies send research to Station, so I would expect that seal in the next couple years to really take off," O'Neill said. "It really helps you differentiate yourself from your competition by showcasing that you are thinking of things in an innovative, out-of-the-box manner."

As of June 2017, only one commercial company can carry that sought-after seal. "Cobra Puma Golf ended up sending research to the Space Station a couple years ago," said O'Neill. "From that, they were able to leverage space technologies and incorporate that into a driver that [professional golfer] Rickie Fowler used for all of [2016]." If you think that's out there, consider the fact that CASIS is currently in talks with Budweiser to figure out how brewing beer in microgravity could work. What next? The options are limitless.

"I think it's kind of cliché, but it goes without saying that this is a very exciting time that we have presently in the aerospace community," said O'Neill. "We're all at a really unique tipping point, and hopefully the Space Station can be that mechanism to really drive innovation and opportunity to levels we've never seen previously."

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If you were aboard the ISS, what would you see? Let everybody's favorite astronaut, Chris Hadfield, give you a photographic tour in "You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 28, 2017

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