NASA’s Human Research Program – A Quick Overview

NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) addresses NASA’s needs for human health and performance risk mitigation strategies in support of space exploration missions to the moon and Mars.

HRP is responsible for the oversight and coordination of a wide range of ongoing studies, experiments, and projects. HRP research activities are divided among five elements: Human Factors and Behavioral Performance, Exploration Medical Capability, Human Health Countermeasures, International Space Station Medical Projects, and Space Radiation.

The stepwise approach being taken is described in Three Steps to Mars – A Quick Overview. The overall research activities are described below.

HRP Research Activities

Human Factors and Behavioral Performance

The Human Factors and Behavioral Performance (HFBP) Element is responsible for characterizing and mitigating human factors and behavioral performance risks associated with living and working in space, and safely returning to Earth.

Exploration Medical Capability

The Exploration Medical Capability (ExMC) Element pushes the boundary of space medical systems to help take care of the astronauts of the future. As NASA makes plans to extend human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, it prioritizes Exploration Medical Capability. Identifying and testing next-generation medical care and crew health maintenance technologies is vital.

Human Health Countermeasures

The Human Health Countermeasures (HHC) Element is responsible for understanding the normal physiologic effects of spaceflight and developing countermeasures to those with detrimental effects on human health and performance.

Research Operations & Integration

The Research Operations & Integration (ROI) Element provides planning, integration, and implementation services for HRP research tasks. The objectives of the ROI are to maximize the utilization of the International Space Station for research to assess the effects of long-duration spaceflight on human systems, to develop and verify strategies to ensure optimal crew performance, and to enable development and validation of an integrated suite of physical, pharmacologic, and nutritional countermeasures to protect the health and performance of crewmembers.

Space Radiation

The goal of the Space Radiation (SR) Element is to ensure that crewmembers can safely live and work in space without exceeding acceptable radiation health risks. Space radiation differs from radiation encountered on Earth.

Additional information for the curious

Three core documents describe the HRP. The first is the Program Requirements Document (PRD), which defines, documents, and allocates high-level requirements to different organizational arms of the program; these requirements include responsibility for specific human system risks listed in the PRD.

The second HRP document is the Integrated Research Plan (IRP), which describes what implementation activities that are necessary to fill the knowledge and mitigation gaps that are associated with each risk that is listed in the PRD. It also details when those activities will be accomplished, where they will be accomplished (e.g., the International Space Station (ISS) or a ground analog), who will accomplish them (investigators within a specific project or organization within the HRP), and what is being produced (risk uncertainty reduction, candidate health or performance standard, countermeasure strategy, etc.).

The third HRP document is the Evidence Book, which is a collection of evidence-based risk reports and iournal articles for each individual risk that is contained within the HR PRD and for which implementation activities are listed in the Integrated Research Plan. Thus, the collection provides the current state of knowledge for each of the defined human health and performance risks for future NASA exploration missions.