History of NIH and NASA Collaborations

NIH and NASA have collaborated since the Project Gemini era in the early 1960s. NASA has identified 33 medical health risks to humans who will engage in deep space travel and is interested in research in these areas.

In 2017, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and former NASA Deputy Administrator Dava J. Newman, Ph.D., signed a second NIH-NASA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (PDF - 410KB). The MOU enabled NIH and NASA to develop processes by which NIH grantees could access the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory as well as NASA facilities for biomedical research projects designed to improve human health on Earth. As outlined in the MOU, NIH and NASA efforts include establishing a framework of cooperation to encourage interaction between NIH and NASA research communities and integrating results from that research into improved understanding of human physiology and health.

In early 2018, Collins appointed NCATS’ director, Christopher P. Austin, M.D., as the new NIH liaison to NASA. This role was previously held by the directors of NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

An integral part of this NIH-NASA collaboration includes the representation from over 20 of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers on the NIH-NASA Scientific Potential/Actual Collaborative Efforts (SPACE) group. The SPACE Group meets quarterly to discuss, share and brainstorm biomedical research activities that are of relevance to human and astronaut heath. The goals of the group are to:

  • Explore areas of potential synergy for biomedical scientific research that fulfills the mandates of both NIH and NASA.
  • Facilitate communications among researchers to instigate and support collaborative efforts.
  • Explore possibilities for joint efforts between NIH and NASA to support research into synergistic biomedical interest areas and implement appropriate joint exercises.

In December 2018, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Eric. D. Hargan appointed Austin to lead the advancement of human health research between HHS agencies and NASA. An interagency agreement (PDF - 273KB) was signed with the objectives to:

  • Share innovative ideas for addressing science and tech challenges.
  • Promote collaboration and cooperation in research and development related to human and public health.
  • Leverage shared resources including expertise, access to facilities and scientific resources.

The HHS-NASA team has engaged with a number of HHS components to help build collaborative efforts.

For more information, email Lucie Low, Ph.D., NIH-NASA liaison point of contact.