Craig Kundrot, director of the NASA's biological and physical sciences division, said the agency is seeking funding starting in fiscal year 2023 for an initiative that could allow "hyper-specialized" scientists go to the ISS and future commercial space stations.
"We seek to bring scientists back into space," he said, drawing parallels to payload specialists who flew on shuttle missions. Those non-career astronauts included scientists and engineers who flew on missions to conduct research. One, Charlie Walker, flew on three shuttle missions running microgravity experiments for his employer, McDonnell Douglas.
"We are envisioning a different version of that now that we have, in this evolving, emerging commercial world, the private astronaut mission capability," he said. "We seek to use that to fly hyper-specialized scientists to do research in LEO that is really very hard for even the most closely trained astronaut in that field to do."
The initiative, called Commercially Enabled Rapid Space Science, or CERISS, will start with requests for information (RFIs), he said. One RFI will ask companies for what research capabilities they have or are developing for use in low Earth orbit. A second RFI will ask researchers to determine what areas would benefit from having scientists conducting the research themselves in orbit.
NASA will then fund proposals to develop and test research hardware and analysis capabilities, based on the feedback from the RFIs. That would be followed by grants to conduct research using those capabilities, including flying scientists to the ISS.