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Young to head space research effort

Laurence R. Young, Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, has been named director of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), a new NASA-sponsored research institute, the space agency announced last week.

"It's a very exciting job. As director, I will have some say in determining the shape of our future space program and in how we pick people to go into space," said Professor Young. He will assume his new responsibilities this spring and will divide his time between Houston and MIT thereafter.

The NSBRI will be the focal point of NASA-sponsored space biomedical research. Its twofold mission is to address the medical obstacles to safe, productive and long-term human presence in space, and to apply the knowledge gained from space research to human medical problems.

Professor Young was a principal investigator on four space shuttle missions and an alternate NASA payload specialist for the Space Life Sciences 2 Mission in October 1993. He has been internationally recognized for his research on how the balance mechanism in the inner ear is linked to "space sickness." He is director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium and co-founder, with Y.T. Li, of the Man-Vehicle Laboratory at MIT.

Describing the local roots of the NSBRI, Professor Young emphasized, "It is an HST [Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology] group activity. About 40 people from the Harvard, MIT and Boston University communities are involved."

Professor Young cited in particular the work of two MIT biomedical research scientists: Dr. Charles M. Oman, a senior lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, director of the Man-Vehicle Laboratory and a specialist in neurovestibular adaptation, and Dr. Richard J. Cohen, an HST professor, director of the Biomedical Engineering Center and an expert in cardiovascular alterations. Both scientists will be team leaders for the NSBRI research consortium.

"This is an effort to try to enhance the quality and intensity of space life-sciences research," said Dr. Bobby R. Alford, chairman of the board of directors of the new space institute and dean of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The NSBRI consortium will be led by the Baylor College of Medicine. Other consortium members are MIT, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University Medical School and Applied Physics Laboratory, Morehouse School of Medicine, Rice University and Texas A&M University.

"We expect to have close collaboration among the consortium members. Now we can use the first-rate work already being done by universities with NIH-supported work and direct its application to space problems," Professor Young said.

"The Institute is a great opportunity to allow space life sciences to reach its full potential," he added. "We have a lot of homework to do to send people to Mars."

The Johnson Space Center will sponsor the multidisciplinary NSBRI. Following a 60-day cooperative agreement for detailed definition, a five-year contract with three five-year extensions will be awarded on June 1. The total value of the 20-year agreement is approximately $145 million, beginning at $10 million per year.

In addition to its twofold mission, the NSBRI will focus on developing a partnership between NASA, the scientific community and industry as their efforts relate to human development, exploration and long-term presence in space.

The NSBRI will function as a geographically distributed consortium using computer links. By expanding research already in progress on the MIT campus and elsewhere, the NSBRI will offer opportunities for faculty sabbaticals at the Johnson Space Center; for NASA scientists to visit MIT, and for graduate training in biomedical research.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 19, 1997.

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