Don Pettit
Astronaut Don Pettit posted this shot on his blog in March. He wrote: "This picture was taken pointing to port, so it shows the end of the port truss with solar panels..."
updated 5/8/2012 12:58:28 PM ET 2012-05-08T16:58:28

A nonprofit organization that has been tasked with managing research on the American portions of the International Space Station will begin accepting proposals for specific projects beginning in June, company officials have announced.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in 2011 to manage the space station's U.S. National Laboratory, and to maximize use of these facilities while the orbiting outpost remains operational — planned until at least 2020.

Starting in June, CASIS will begin accepting solicitations for life science research projects to fly on the space station that examine osteoporosis, muscle deterioration, immune system responses, protein crystallization and vaccine development in a microgravity environment.

"The thing that the space station provides us with is tremendous capability already on orbit," Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a science adviser to CASIS, told reporters last month at the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., via a video conference call.

The specific life science topics were decided upon following a review of more than 135 experiments NASA flew in space over the past decade. The CASIS Biological Sciences Review Panel was led by Timothy Yeatman, CASIS' interim chief scientist.

The identified areas of research will act as a starting point, but eventually the scope of the projects will be expanded, said Jim Royston, CASIS' interim executive director. The aim is to build upon the findings of previous studies, and to spur innovation and commercialization in the process. [ 7 Aerospace Technologies On the Road ]

"We are really excited by the potential of what we will be able to learn on orbit about treating these problems on Earth," Yeatman said in a statement.

In April, NanoRacks LLC, a private company already operating research facilities on the station's U.S. National Laboratory under a NASA Space Act Agreement, announced a solicitation call for experiments that will fly outside the orbiting outpost in the vacuum of space.

The platform, which will be attached outside the station's Japanese Kibo laboratory, will be launched in 2014, and is designed to test how materials, biological samples and electronics fare on the exterior of the station as it orbits 240 miles (386 kilometers) above Earth.

After CASIS selects research proposals, the organization will try to leverage its core $3 million budget to also attract investment from other sources, including other research organizations and private companies.

"I really look at it more as a call to action," Royston said. "We have looked at what is there from a commercialization standpoint, what's there from a business model, a sustaining model, and more importantly as a pipeline to this emerging market. I look at this as the first step to this emerging market. It's like our Lewis and Clark moment, and it's time that we really move forward with this."

As part of CASIS' agreement with NASA, the organization has access to 50 percent of the mass available on vehicles traveling to and from the International Space Station for science experiments. This includes existing manned and robotic spacecraft, such as the Russian-built Soyuz and Progress ships, to new commercial vehicles being developed by American companies to ferry cargo to the orbiting complex.

One such, SpaceX's Dragon capsule, is due to make its first test flight to the station May 19, delivering science equipment along with food, clothing and other supplies for the astronauts.

CASIS will develop and manage all the research on the U.S. segments of the space station, which will be conducted for NASA and non-NASA scientists.

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After 13 years of assembly, construction of the $100 billion space station is finally complete.

The space station typically houses six astronauts at any one time. The amount of science conducted aboard the outpost depends on the crew size, and astronauts usually divide their time between scientific research, daily maintenance and exercise.

Now that construction of the space station is complete, CASIS is aiming to maximize use of the facilities for scientific research.

"I think this is the first of a number of initiatives that you'll be seeing from CASIS," Stern said. "They're going to be individually small steps, but we're going to add incrementally — and you'll see it over the next weeks and the remaining months of the year — new opportunities for putting new research payloads up, for using the facilities that are there, and to exploit the space station that the United States built."

You can follow staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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