Life in Space – NASA Life Sciences Research During the Late Twentieth Century by Maura Phillips Mackowski, University of Florida Press (May 2022); 375 pages; Hardcover: $35.00.

This well-researched, well-written, and meticulously documented account of a somewhat concealed side of NASA offers a revealing look into the agency’s research in the space life sciences – and opportunities unfulfilled. 

The book consists of 10 chapters, such as “Working in the Space Environment,” “Radiation and the Science of Risk Reduction,” “Design and Redesign: The Many Space Stations of NASA,” and “The Vision for Space Exploration.” There is also an extensive and in-valuable notes/reference section that is priceless.

In the introduction, the author says upfront: “Space life sciences had to struggle for an acknowledged and appreciated place at the Agency’s table, principally because NASA was formed purposely as an evolution of a predecessor engineering research agency, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA).”

Mackowski has written a bold story about NASA’s ambitious space life science program, but more importantly, why it is essential if dreams of lunar outposts and planting footprints on Mars are to become historical “done that” checkmarks in the future.

NASA’s space shuttle program brought with it a more diverse astronaut corps – gender, age, and nationalities. “This created a broader pool of human test subjects, making space research more applicable to Earth medicine. It also presented new challenges as the Agency worked to equip and maintain flight crews and manage programs carrying out increasingly ambitious research,” Mackowski writes.

The reader will find new insight into one opportunity lost and still lost-in-space – a high-tech centrifuge and work on artificial gravity. Keeping astronauts healthy, the author explains, meant re-looks into old ideas of artificial gravity, based on decades of learning about the medical impacts of microgravity.

A fascinating read is available on details dealing with troublesome radiation and risk reduction steps. “Fortunately for NASA’s life sciences budget, radiation was a danger no one knew much about but everyone wanted to understand,” the author points out.

This book is a significant volume of history, but also underscores what the future holds in carrying out productive life science research and what investigations are missing-in-action.

The volume builds upon the excellent quality of Mackowski’s research and writing in the past. She is a research historian based in Arizona and author of Testing the Limits: Aviation Medicine and the Origins of Manned Space Flight.

In publicizing this work, take note of a comment from John B. Charles, retired chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program: “Mackowski’s research is exhaustive, her analysis is spot-on, and her conclusions give us pause as we consider when and if to send our fellow humans deeper into space on longer missions with greater risk and less support from Mission Control than ever before.”

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