Encyclopedia of Bioastronautics

Living Edition
| Editors: Laurence R. Young, Jeffrey P. Sutton

Careers and Education: An Overview

  • Marlene Y. MacLeishEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-10152-1_122-1


Bioastronautics Global Partnerships Humanity Elementary Secondary Graduate-postgraduate Knowledge Health Humanity Africa Europe Careers Standards Space International Space Station 


Bioastronautics education is an elementary-through-postgraduate-level, multidisciplinary specialty that focuses on biological research on (1) the health and productivity of crews living and working in space, (2) the science of human space missions, and (3) the transfer of new knowledge for practical applications on Earth.


The inspirational and educational value of space exploration has been codified in the Global Exploration Strategy, which endorses space knowledge development and transfer as essential elements of an interdependent spacefaring world (Pace and Giuseppe 2012). Educators are playing a unique role in developing strategic partnerships and sharing best educational practices to further global understanding of the benefits of space exploration for life on Earth. They are preparing the next generation of scientists for the twenty-first-century space workforce and positioning bioastronautics education as one of space exploration’s most compelling spin-offs.

Bioastronautics education is generally defined as a multidisciplinary specialty focusing on an elementary-through-postgraduate level, multidisciplinary specialty that focuses on biological research on (1) the health and productivity of crews living and working in space, (2) the science of human space missions, and (3) the transfer of new knowledge for practical applications on Earth (IOM 2014). This discipline spans elementary-through-postgraduate levels and uses evidence-based educational outcome strategies and information technologies to generate new science, develop innovative education modules, promote educational access and workforce development, and increase scientific literacy among general audiences. Primary mechanisms used to transfer bioastronautics knowledge are teacher professional development, curriculum development, specialized doctoral/postdoctoral fellowships and degree-granting programs, and science literacy outreach activities conducted by science museum, science centers, and other organizations to educate the general public about the value of space exploration for life on Earth (Hand et al. 2010).

Detailed Description

Careers and Education: An Overview

Space agencies and educators across the globe are creating partnerships to (1) introduce and sustain bioastronautics knowledge transfer to secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, (2) develop degree-granting and other training programs that prepare bioastronautics workforces for their respective countries, and (3) educate the general public about how our daily lives are enhanced by space technologies and applications. The global effort to transfer bioastronautics knowledge relies on multidisciplinary partnerships among universities, school systems, national space agencies, corporations, and astronautics organizations, such as the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). The IAF is the world’s leading space advocacy body, with more than 270 members, including all key space agencies worldwide, partner companies, and professional societies and associations across 6 continents and 62 countries. Both the IAA and the IAF have included bioastronautics education in their missions to advance knowledge about space and to encourage global cooperation in space exploration activities.

Other key space agencies and nonprofit organizations focusing on bioastronautics education transfer include the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Canadian Space Agency; European Space Agency; German Aerospace Center, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales; Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Biomedical Problems; Italian Space Agency; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and the China National Space Administration. The Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency and the South African National Space Agency (established in 2010) are leading efforts to solidify bioastronautics education among African and other developing space societies. A brief discussion of bioastronautics education in developed and developing space nations follows.

Bioastronautics Education in Select Developed Space Nations

Developed space nations, such as Canada, Europe, Japan, and the USA, conduct bioastronautics education programs in formal educational institutions (e.g., schools, institutes, universities) and informal learning settings (e.g., museums, science centers, professional/social organizations).

Formal Bioastronautics Education

Developed spacefaring countries have multifaceted partnerships for delivering bioastronautics education along the full educational continuum, from grades K–12 to undergraduate- and doctoral-/postdoctoral-level programs. These initiatives have broad educational missions to promote national science workforce development, advance systemic change to facilitate the flow of bioastronautics information into elementary and secondary science education curricula and national education standards, and attract undergraduate- and graduate-level students to careers in STEM fields. Select examples of formal education programs are described below.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

This agency established the JAXA Space Education Center Cosmic College in 2005 to advocate “space as the unique source of interest, imagination and inspiration” for students. The College runs a formal education program that coordinates curricula with select schools to develop grade-appropriate materials for subjects including social studies, music, and home economics. The Cosmic College offers programs for grades K–12, supports space education events, holds classes for K–12 students, and supports educational leaders and teachers throughout Japan to assist in this effort.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

This agency, created in 1989 through an Act of Parliament, has the status of a department of the government of Canada. Its programs and activities are aligned with the government’s Science and Technology Strategy and integrated into school curricula across Canada. CSA activities are spread over four divisions: Earth Observation, Space Science and Exploration, Satellite Communications, and Space Awareness. CSA’s educational outreach program, housed in the Space Awareness Division, focuses on elementary/secondary school activities that bring space and related science into classrooms and stimulate student interest in STEM. It sponsors engaging programs, such as “Tomatosphere” and the “Canada from Space” Giant Floor Map. The latter is a collaboration between the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society that teaches about pollution, natural disasters, and their impacts on Canada’s Arctic region while having students use the Canada from Space floor map to locate unique images, taken by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR)

This organization conducts DLR School Labs, which have a capacity to reach approximately 100,000 students in programs ranging from elementary level to doctoral training. The DLR doctoral program campus motto is “Out of the classroom – into the lab!” The program encourages independent study in the natural sciences and technology and offers space-focused career traineeships administered by the human resources offices at each DLR location. The DLR also conducts external effectiveness longitudinal studies to establish measurable outcomes and assess long-term outcomes for future course selection and career decisions.

The European Space Agency (ESA)

This agency includes education in its charter and has an Education Office that serves students aged 6–28, to sustain their interest in space exploration and STEM fields. The office sponsors hands-on projects designed to develop satellites and sounding rockets, conduct parabolic flights, and fly experiments on the ISS, among other things. The office also conducts teacher training workshops and administers the International Space Education Board to focus on intonation activities and support teacher and student participation in international activities such as the NASA Academy, IAA conferences, and the Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research. ESA has developed interdisciplinary curriculum modules focused on various aspects of the ISS. These modules cover how the ISS was built, what it is like to live and work on the ISS, and what future space voyages might be like. The modules are presented in kits, which include bioastronautics content texts, multidisciplinary exercises, and teachers’ guides with supporting references and links to additional resources. Kit topics include Space History; Radiation in Space; Educational Experiments on the ISS; Bubbles in Space; Take Your Classroom Into Space; So Objects Have Weight In Space; Lesson Plans For Use with ISS Education Kits; Search for the Mission Universe; Space History: Columbus, Past, Present and Future; What is Radiation; Balance in Space; Ingredients of Life on Earth and in Space; and Nutrition in Space.

Informal Bioastronautics Education

Informal initiatives include diverse multimedia programs, museum/science center exhibits, astronaut/scientist presentations, and summer activities. These initiatives seek to communicate knowledge generated through space life science research to lay audiences (MacLeish et al. 2001), with the twin intent of increasing public appreciation and understanding of bioastronautics research and encouraging public support for funding of their respective exploration agendas. The most effective programs do one or more of the following: enrich classrooms, inspire support of lifelong learning opportunities, contribute to teachers’ knowledge about bioastronautics, and engage school leaders in developing strategies that address the systemic challenges and opportunities inherent in introducing new bioastronautics knowledge into respective local, state, and national systems.

K–12 Partnerships

In general, partnerships focused on elementary-though-secondary school are designed to (1) assist school systems in integrating bioastronautics knowledge into existing curricula; (2) support educators in creating hands-on, inquiry-based, space life science-themed activities for use in their classrooms; (3) provide additional resources for teacher professional development; (4) encourage teachers – and provide them with tools needed – to utilize the International Space Station in their lessons; (5) collaborate with educators to conduct educational research; (6) promote access to, and awareness of, science careers among diverse student populations; and (7) collaborate with local media and other programs to improve science literacy and foster community participation in space activities. Many of these programs receive extramural funding to offer extracurricular activities, encourage students to participate in STEM competitions, sponsor astronaut visits to schools, etc. The widely diverse program topics include the nature of the universe, changes experienced by the human body when it leaves Earth’s orbit, and applications of bioastronautics research to life on Earth. Curricular modules often are field-tested, aligned with national science education standards, and infused with inquiry-based approaches that promote higher-order thinking and skills acquisition.

Graduate-Postgraduate Education and Research

Students in space life sciences graduate and postgraduate programs work at the interface of biology, medicine, and engineering to help establish countermeasures against the physiological and psychological impacts experienced by humans during extended periods in microgravity. Unsurprisingly, the most successful space life sciences training programs commonly incorporate biomedical, physical, and engineering sciences to address human spaceflight health issues, advance space exploration, and produce medical benefits for people on Earth.

  • Graduate/postgraduate course and/or program components may include theses, seminars, advanced lectures, laboratory research, journal clubs, and/or scientific writing. Some develop modules to strengthen/create space life sciences certification and majors or offer special summer rotations and clerkships in facilities that conduct space-based research (e.g., bed rest facilities, head-down tilt, and lower-body negative pressure to assess syncope/maximal cardiovascular stress/orthostatic capacity, short-arm centrifuge for artificial gravity, and harmful effects of radiation (Goswami et al. 2014)). Some of these specialized seminars run concurrently with coursework during the academic year, enabling students to participate in hands-on, hypothesis-driven laboratory research.

  • Visiting scholars programs and symposia, such as the IAA’s regional African conferences and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, provide additional opportunities for graduate-level scholars to meet with leading minds in space life sciences research. These forums allow for high-level discussions that foster increased communication, cooperation, and collaboration among promising young scientists and Africa’s top space life sciences experts. Other exceptional graduate and/or postgraduate programs include the Helmholtz Space Life Sciences Research School (Space Life) in Germany, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute-funded programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University in the USA, and the Medical University-Graz Institute of Physiology, Center of Physiological Medicine, at the University of Graz in Austria. These examples have the capacity to transfer products and processes to emerging African space-based institutions seeking to establish their own research infrastructure and student-based initiatives (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1

Bioastronautics Education in Developing Space Nations: The Case of Africa

The emergence of bioastronautics education activities in Africa illustrates the challenges and opportunities facing bioastronautics educators in developing societies. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the International Academy of Astronautics are two international organizations leading the way forward, and they have established networks of educational programs from which to launch and strengthen bioastronautics programs in Africa. A number of African space agencies, including the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency and the South African Space Agency, have made appreciable progress in virtually all areas of space science education. They are accomplishing this, in part, through the establishment of regional training centers of excellence, including the African Union Pan African University for Science Technology and Innovation; the South African Institute of Space Science and Technology; the Kenyan Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation; the Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences in Cameroon; and the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (Akinyede and Adepoju 2013).

Notable African success stories include the IAA’s regional conferences on “Space for Africa,” featuring bioastronautics education workshops, curriculum module development, and the design of education roadmaps to expand life sciences research in Africa. (MacLeish et al. 2014). In 2014 the IAA collaborated with space life scientists and educators from Austria, Cameroon, Germany, Greece, Japan, Nigeria, and the USA to develop a roadmap for space life sciences and bioastronautics education in Africa. Furthermore, the IAA’s Commission 2: Study Group Report from International Cooperation for Space Exploration Knowledge Sharing and Development in Africa presents new ideas and initiatives for bioastronautics and space knowledge development and transfer (MacLeish et al. 2014) (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

ISS: Study Group Report, Space for Africa

These efforts seek to address indigenous concerns of African nations, such as developing human capital in space science and technology, promoting public awareness of the importance of space activities, and advancing STEM education in schools to promote workforce development. All of these efforts provide educational platforms for bioastronautics research, public engagement, knowledge acquisition, and educational outreach. In addition, they have fueled Africa’s steady emergence within the global spacefaring community, ignited interest in space life sciences research and education, and engaged African youth in space-related outreach activities, such as face-to-face interactions with astronauts and cosmonauts and participation in zero-gravity programs supported by the World Space Week International (https://en.wikipedia.org/World Space Week). A unique source of inspiration for African students has been Mark Shuttleworth, the first African to fly in space (aboard the Russian Soyuz TM-34 mission). His International Space Station-based research on AIDS, one of the most pressing diseases in Africa, has inspired educators and holds promise for motivating students to pursue careers in space sciences (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Nigerian students: At zero-G flight at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA

Africa historically has been challenged by the need for laboratories with capacity for advanced bioastronautics research in areas such as radiation exposure, molecular genetics, and quantitative modeling to understand more fully the human body’s complex physiological interactions with the microgravity environment of space. Fortunately, African space life sciences institutions now are developing partnerships with scientists from the USA and Europe to collaborate on ground-based and low-Earth orbit models of microgravity – such as bed rest and water immersion – and to gain hands-on experience with tools for orthostatic capacity testing, such as head-up tilt and lower-body negative pressure (Akinyede 2018). Research in these critical areas could produce a cohort of African scientists with the credentials to participate fully in research on the International Space Station and to spin off bioastronautics educational technologies for African space workforce development. This step would greatly advance bioastronautics education in Africa and lead to additional collaborations that generate new knowledge, based on Africa’s indigenous perspectives and resources.

Bioastronautics education has potential to train Africa’s brightest and best students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and to inspire these young people to pursue careers in STEM professions. Such efforts require integration of bioastronautics knowledge into complex school bureaucracies, the inclusion of space-based knowledge as a national educational standard, and partnerships among professional teacher organizations, museums, science centers, and educational leaders to develop educational materials and improve teachers’ space life sciences knowledge. This vision also includes full and efficient utilization of twenty-first-century information technologies to link rural and other underserved communities to educational centers able to deliver bioastronautics information and teacher professional development throughout the continent. (Fig. 4)
Fig. 4

Nigerian Space Agency: Telemedicine project – IAA conference, Abuja, Nigeria

In one example, Nigeria’s university-based African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology – which focuses on remote sensing/GIS, satellite communications, basic space science, and atmospheric science – has sustained a 10-year collaboration with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. As noted earlier, the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency also has organizational capacity to establish a space life sciences research and educational outreach operation. International initiatives, such as the NASA-funded National Space Biomedical Research Institute, provide models that could be indigenized by African organizations seeking to pursue their individual visions of success. Of course, the sine qua non for success in any segment of the African bioastronautics educational continuum will be continuous program evaluation, refinement of implementation strategies, and establishment of new educational collaborations among industries, academia, and governments to grow Africa’s space exploration knowledge base and workforce continually.

Medical School Programs

Medical school programs in the USA and Europe are studying bioastronautics factors related to the mitigation of risks associated with space flight (e.g., exposure to the hazardous environment of space, healthcare challenges posed by microgravity, and the behavioral, mental, and physical changes that occur). These risks can affect crew health and the success of every mission (IOM 2004) and can vary, based on the length of stay in space. Below are descriptions of two USA medical school programs dedicated to research and education related to these risks and to using new discoveries to improve human health on Earth.

Harvard University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST). Enrolling approximately 300 students per year, HST is one of the largest biomedical engineering and physician training programs in the USA. Its interdisciplinary curriculum combines engineering with physical and biological sciences, and it educates students to integrate quantitative and molecular aspects of medicine and biological science through the development of strong quantitative skills, provision of hands-on experiences in clinical and/or industry settings, and completion of a focused interdisciplinary research project. The HST program seeks to prepare students for a broad range of science and healthcare careers, including medicine and bioastronautics research.

Harvard Medical School. The Harvard Medical School, including Harvard teaching hospitals, collaborates with the Harvard Division of Sleep Medicine to conduct clinical and basic research science bioastronautics research that advances understanding of sleep and circadian physiology and develops therapies to treat sleep disorders experienced in the space environment. Harvard also collaborated with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute to enroll graduate-level research and medical students who are interested in bioastronautics and sleep research.

Scientific Literacy and Pubic Outreach

The future of space exploration and advancement of bioastronautics education will require a scientifically literate public that is informed about the benefits – and relevance – of space exploration for life on Earth. Outreach programs promote scientific literacy through an array of activities, including multimedia productions (television, film, radio, and web-based resources) and targeted partnerships with international education leaders and organizations that seek to promote bioastronautics studies and careers among students, their families, and the general public.

Innovative projects, such as Morehouse School of Medicine’s (MSM) NSBRI-sponsored Big City Immersion, are providing test-beds for the development of new multimedia narratives around complex bioastronautics topics, such as forces, gravity, and human physiology in space. These narratives use social networking technologies and digital journalism to energize civic engagement in conversations about the benefits of space exploration for society. To this end, MSM has collaborated with Atlanta Education Telecommunications, Inc. to introduce its space education film archive and radio and television productions to new audiences. Notable examples are NASA’s Neurolab TV documentary, Exploring Two Frontiers: The Neurolab Space Shuttle, which was distributed to millions of viewers internationally.

Other multimedia productions include National Public Radio’s award-winning, six-part documentary, Biomedical Science for Space Travelers: Sleep and Space, which provides an in-depth look at human biology and behavior through space bioastronautics research. The first program in the series, Space Aging, covers new discoveries related to bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and muscle atrophy and considers the possible implications for addressing the aging process on Earth. The second program, Getting Your Bearings, discusses balance problems faced during spaceflight and explains how the human neurovestibular system adapts to changes in orientation and environment. The third program, The Human Clock, explains how the human brain registers changes in light and dark while in space and how these changes help to regulate our internal 24-h “clock” on Earth. The Enigma Force describes the human body’s response to microgravity. The next two segments, Telemedicine and The Long Distance Patient, focus on the challenges associated with consulting, diagnosing, and delivering effective medical care when the physician is far away and describe some of NASA’s programs to facilitate distance medicine for astronauts (MacLeish et al. 2001). This documentary series was syndicated to Australia and Canada and aired on 106 stations covering more than 70% of the USA, including all major markets.

Sleep and Space features NSBRI-NASA scientists, who explain how sleep research is informing treatment of sleep disorders faced by people on Earth and astronauts in space. The series is comprised of five segments: Sleep and Space, Why We Sleep, Sleep Dangers, Sleep and Kids, and Sleep and Aging.

An additional outreach program that reached millions of people was a six-part educational series developed by NSBRI partner, EarthSky Communications, to disseminate the work of NSBRI scientists via radio broadcasts and podcasts. EarthSky professionals interviewed six NSBRI scientists, distilled these interviews into podcasts, and distributed them through approximately 1,700 worldwide broadcast outlets. The broadcasts/podcasts were heard by an estimated audience of 13 million people on the days of their release (MacLeish 2001).


Private-public partnerships have proven effective in raising public awareness of, and interest in, the challenges and promise of bioastronautics and space exploration and in educating the next generation of space explorers and scientists (MacLeish et al. 2012). This multidisciplinary tome is encouraging educators, artists, corporations, governmental entities, and others from many nations and diverse cultures to create partnerships that sustain and develop global bioastronautics education networks, expand the frontier of space exploration, and publicize the benefits of space exploration to advance the emerging global consensus that space exploration’s ultimate mission is to serve humanity.



The author would like to acknowledge the Springer editorial office for its guidance. The author also wishes to thank Drs. Gregory Vogt, Amanda Hackler, David Klaus, Elizabeth Klerman, David Dinges, Joseph Akinyede and William Thomson, and Mr. James Denk, for their contributions to this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Space Biomedical Research InstituteMorehouse School of MedicineAtlantaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Marlene Y. MacLeish
    • 1
  1. 1.National Space Biomedical Research InstituteMorehouse School of MedicineAtlantaUSA