As we near the humbling anniversary of 20 years of continuous human presence in space, I am honored to be a part of the space community. For nearly 10 years, I have worked with the nonprofit Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), supporting its urgent mission to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory for research and technology development (R&D) initiatives that bring value back to the American taxpayer.
Under CASIS management, the ISS National Lab has supported just a portion of the more than 3,000 experiments that have been conducted on station during its 20 years of service as an R&D platform. I have witnessed incredible progress in just our small piece of the broader community’s advancement. We have supported the flight of more than 500 payloads to the ISS, more than 70% of which reflect private-sector activity. These projects have produced 10 patents to date and more than 120 peer-reviewed publications.
Examples of these commercial users include many of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world—Eli Lilly and Company, Merck & Co., Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, and AstraZeneca—as well as manufacturing companies like Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nalco Champion, adidas, Milliken & Co., Delta Faucet, Cobra Puma Golf, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Apple, and Budweiser. These groups and other scientific thought leaders and innovators have also helped support the growth of a diverse community of Implementation Partners, who are essential in helping new-to-space investigators translate their work to space.
It is apparent from this robust interest in space that the ISS is not only a powerful R&D platform in low Earth orbit (LEO)—it is a one-of-a-kind platform that also serves as a business incubator and proof-of-concept test bed. The community engaged in R&D on the ISS is not only advancing knowledge and commercial products; they are maturing business models, toward a future where many businesses operate successfully in space without heavy government subsidies—where NASA is, in fact, only one of many customers.
We have an urgency to nurture the growth of this community while the ISS is still here to de-risk those ventures. While I am proud to look back on the last 20 years of ISS successes and our small contributions to it, we must also look to the future. Over the next 20 years, we must unequivocally demonstrate that continued use of space for unique R&D not possible on Earth should be a national priority, and that the value of such activities is sufficient to draw investment from diverse sources. We must establish the business cases for transitioning what has been a compelling proof-of-concept from the ISS to free-flying microgravity production platforms in LEO.
This is perhaps a lofty task, but I believe in the vision and understand the urgency—and over the coming years, we will continue to enable the use of the ISS as a one-of-a-kind business incubator in LEO and support targeted efforts to advance promising translational and applied R&D that will build the foundations of a LEO industrial economy.
It is my hope that over the next 20 years of groundbreaking activity in space, we are able to showcase as a community not just the areas of activity that are likely to become sustainable in the post-ISS era but also the business models, operational approaches, and paradigms for collaboration that will ensure success of our shared future in space.
With that in mind, I am pleased to share that this article precedes a series of guest-authored blogs on what our community envisions for the next 20 years in space. Please return here to share with us in learning from the participants in our growing LEO economy about what they see as the future for our world in space.