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Biomedical Research and Public Health Collaborations with NASA

NCATS is the home for collaborations on biomedical research and public health with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NCATS coordinates, fosters and develops research relationships that advance the goals of NIH, the broader U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and NASA for the broad benefit of human health.

NIH-NASA Collaboration

NIH and NASA have an ongoing collaboration to explore how space and Earth-based biomedical research can benefit human health here on Earth as well as address the challenges of health in low Earth orbit (LEO) and during deep space exploration missions. The collaboration encourages space-related biomedical research through the exchange of expertise, data, and scientific and technical information with NASA’s Division of Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS).

In 2017, former 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 an 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. NCATS’ director, Joni L. Rutter, Ph.D., is the current liaison to NASA for HHS. In this capacity, she and the team at NCATS coordinate interactions and expertise sharing among components of HHS to explore joint areas of interest.

An integral part of this NIH-NASA collaboration includes representation from over 20 of the 27 NIH institutes and centers on the NIH-NASA Scientific Potential/Actual Collaborative Efforts (SPACE) group.

In December 2018, Deputy Secretary of HHS, Eric. D. Hargan appointed Austin to lead the advancement of human health research between HHS agencies and NASA. NCATS' current director Joni L. Rutter, Ph.D., now leads this effort. 

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

In January 2021, HHS appointed staff members to centralize the partnership and ensure continuity between administrations. NCATS remains a leader in these efforts, working alongside NASA and HHS staff to coordinate activities.

NIH and NASA work together to coordinate funding and collaboration opportunities, workshops and conferences, special interest groups and other activities across agencies. For more information, see a list of activities as well as NCATS’ collaborative workspace