This summary of certain aspects of the space biology program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration brings together some results of NASA research and NASA-sponsored research under grants and contracts from 1958 through 1964. Closely related research even though not sponsored by NASA is also included.
The space biology program has had a late start in comparison with the space physics program, and only a token program existed before 1962. Much of the present research involves preparation of space-flight experiments and obtainment of adequate baseline information. Perhaps half the research results reported are derived from the NASA program. Additional information is included from many other sources, especially the U.S. Air Force with its long history of work in aviation and aerospace medicine.
Relatively few biological space-flight experiments have been undertaken. These have been to test life-support systems and to demonstrate, before manned space flight, an animal's capability to survive. Few critical biological experiments have been placed in orbit by NASA, but a biosatellite program will soon make a detailed study of the fundamental biological effects of weightlessness, biorhythms, and radiation.
The search for extraterrestrial life has been limited to ground-based research and planning for planetary and lunar landings. Life-detection experiments have been developed and tested, and an important and exciting program is being planned to detect and study extraterrestrial life, if it exists.
Interest in space biology has been slow in developing, and there has been some caution and controversy in the scientific community. However, increased interest is starting to push forward the frontier of this new and important scientific field, and future outlook appears to be optimistic.