The promise of a diverse science portfolio including experiments that could produce valuable products on Earth helped a Florida nonprofit win responsibility for non-NASA research on the International Space Station.
NASA on Friday formally announced a 10-year agreement with the Kennedy Space Center-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, which will manage the portion of the station designated a U.S. National Lab.
Agency officials said the center’s proposal, led by Space Florida, stood out from three others because of its process for evaluating not only basic science but experiments that might have useful commercial applications.
“The approach involved a diversified portfolio, it involved valuation, and we saw that as a differentiator,” said Mark Uhran, assistant associate administrator for the space station.
“The idea is to select good science and establish return on investment from completing that good science,” added Jeanne Becker, the center’s executive director.
With assembly of the 15-nation, $100-billion station completed during the final shuttle missions earlier this year, NASA and its partners are focusing attention on science research and “utilization” of the complex.
Congress designated the outpost a National Lab in 2005 and NASA was required to turn over its management to an independent entity.
The lab offers access to U.S., European and Japanese facilities inside and outside the station. Time allotted for U.S. research is split 50-50 with NASA, which will continue its own experiments.
The station is expected to operate until at least 2020, though a recent problem with a Russian rocket has already raised concerns about keeping it staffed through this year.
The center became a functioning entity last week and is in the process of hiring up to 30 or 40 staff members who will be based at the Space Life Sciences Lab at KSC and operate with $15 million from NASA.
Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, considers the center’s selection a key win in its effort to diversify the area’s space industry after the shuttle program and to rebrand Kennedy as more than a place to launch rockets.
Frank DiBello, the agency’s head, said the initiative could attract a cluster of companies involved in space-based research if the station proves the value of that research to both taxpayers and the marketplace.
“Then in the long run we’ll see more space-based activity, perhaps even a longer life for the space station, and you’ll certainly see other platforms flying,” he said.
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