NASA Seeks Nonprofit ISS Manager

NASA Seeks Nonprofit ISS Manager

Officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) outlined the key features of a solicitation for proposals for an independent, nonprofit research management organization to foster and manage the use of the International Space Station (ISS) as a National Laboratory yesterday.

Mark Uhran, ISS assistant associate administrator, explained that since 2005 when the ISS was designated by law as a national laboratory, 50 percent of the U.S. portion of the ISS has been made available for research by non-NASA entities, such as universities, private firms, and other government agencies. Based on another law, the 2010 NASA authorization act, the agency is now seeking to create an organization to manage this non-NASA research. He clarified that NASA will maintain control of the other 50 percent necessary for pursuing its own goals, which are focused on basic scientific research, biomedical human research, and technology development.

Marybeth Edeen, manager of NASA’s ISS National Laboratory Office, explained that as part of its role, the new non-profit organization will carry out the “announcement-proposal, review-selection process” for use of the national laboratory, making recommendations to NASA about which researchers to select. Uhran said the organization should be in place by the end of this fiscal year, with activities ramping up as commercial transportation systems to the ISS come on line in the next 12-18 months. With a $15 million budget for the national laboratory, the relatively small organization – 15-25 people – will be tasked with communicating with potential user communities, managing agreements, as well as overseeing the execution of approved projects.

Uhran explained that progress on using the ISS as a national lab is very important because it will fulfill the vision of a station “built not solely for NASA usage.” He said the goal is to “maximize [ISS’s] value to the American public” for their investment and that its long-term productivity will be measured both by NASA and non-NASA usage. Creation of the non-profit organization will “be an important step in ensuring that that productivity is realized,” he added.

The deadline for proposals is April 1, 2011 and selection will be made by the end of May.

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