NASA Calls for Independent Review of ISS National Lab

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Jim Bridenstine Calls for “Strategic Pause” and Independent Review of ISS National Laboratory. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced via Twitter Tuesday night that an independent review of ISS National Lab is coming. This comes just a couple of weeks after Bridenstine and Joseph Vockley appeared together at a press conference to discuss the lab’s development. Vockley is the current head of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). CASIS, a non-profit organization, operates the part of the ISS we call the national laboratory. However, CASIS has recently rebranded itself as simply “ISS National Laboratory.” To avoid confusion, however, when I reference the ISS national laboratory, I am referencing the physical space aboard the ISS. When I reference CASIS, I’ll am referencing the organization that currently controls that space. 

Panel at the ISS R&D conference where Bridenstine and Vockley appeared together

Panel at the ISS R&D conference where Bridenstine and Vockley appeared together

A Series of Shakeups

It’s been a bit of a tumultuous year for NASA. In the spring, directives came down on high that shaved four years off of the Atemis timeline. Then Bridenstine decided to replace William Gerstenmaier, the Associate Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations at NASA. Next, the President made his idiocy even more clear by repeatedly calling out Bridenstine for not going straight to Mars. Now, Bridenstine calls for a review of ISS National Laboratory. 

At the aforementioned press conference in which Bridenstine and Vockley appeared, the two seemed in agreement on the mission of CASIS and the ISS national laboratory. 

CASIS head Joseph Vockley

CASIS head Joseph Vockley

There has, however, been some political turmoil within CASIS lately, which inspires curiosity as to the motive behind the review. According to an article in Space News, CASIS formally requested that Vockley’s role be limited in the future. The article also claims that the CASIS board of directors attempted to have Vockley removed. Finally, Space News reported that CASIS is sometimes criticized by other members of the scientific community for inefficiency issues. 

The article references a letter from NASA to CASIS that calls for a “strategic pause” in operations while the investigation takes place. That letter also reportedly pushed off a decision about Vockley’s fate until the twelve-week investigation is complete.

Finally, Ken Bowersox (the guy who temporarily replaced Gerstenmeir) sent a memo on August 14th. It said that NASA’s liaison to CASIS will move from NASA’s ISS division to its LEO Commercialization Activities division. 

Elizabeth Cantwell Will Lead Review of ISS National Lab

The main focus of the mission centers on aligning current capabilities of CASIS with NASA’s vision for commercializing Low Earth Orbit. Bridenstine claims this is important for “future space economy.” Two firms will conduct the independent review of ISS National Lab. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will commission the review. The goal of the mission, per Bridenstine, is “to ensure we are on mission & appropriately resourced to produce breakthroughs that improve lives on Earth.” 

Elizabeth Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of Arizona, will spearhead the investigation. Cantwell served on the National Academies’ Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, as well as the Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Additionally, she co-chaired a 2011 decadal survey for life and physical sciences research in space. 

Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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