The 2011 National Research Council decadal survey on biological and physical sciences in space, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, was written during a critical period in the evolution of science in support of space exploration. The research agenda in space life and physical sciences had been significantly descoped during the programmatic adjustments of the Vision for Space Exploration in 2005, and this occurred in the same era as the International Space Station (ISS) assembly was nearing completion in 2011. Out of that period of change, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration presented a cogent argument for the critical need for space life and physical sciences, both for enabling and expanding the exploration capabilities of NASA as well as for contributing unique science in many fields that can be enabled by access to the spaceflight environment.
Since the 2011 publication of the decadal survey, NASA has seen tremendous change, including the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program and the maturation of the ISS. NASA formation of the Division of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications provided renewed focus on the research of the decadal survey. NASA has modestly regrown some of the budget of space life and physical sciences within the agency and engaged the U.S. science community outside NASA to join in this research. In addition, NASA has collaborated with the international space science community.
This midterm assessment reviews NASAâ€™s progress since the 2011 decadal survey in order to evaluate the high-priority research identified in the decadal survey in light of future human Mars exploration. It makes recommendations on science priorities, specifically those priorities that best enable deep space exploration.