Kennedy Scientist Leads National Research Society
For the past year, a NASA scientist at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida has led one of the preeminent microgravity research organizations in the United States. Howard G. Levine, Ph.D., chief scientist in the space agency's International Space Station (ISS) Ground Processing and Research Directorate has served as president of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research, or ASGSR.
A nonprofit organization founded in 1984, ASGSR provides a forum to foster research, education and professional development in the multidisciplinary fields of gravitational space biological and physical sciences.
"We work to bring together a diverse group of scientists and engineers from academia, government and industry to exchange ideas about space research," Levine said. "Our mission also includes encouraging science education and outreach."
Members of ASGSR share interests in how living organisms and physical systems respond to the microgravity environment of space and the many broad-reaching questions regarding how biological processes work in extraterrestrial environments.
"By bringing people together, we share ideas on how to do experiments, hear from those involved in ongoing investigations and encourage the peer review process for soliciting the best spaceflight research possible," said Levine.
Levine believes these activities are important for NASA now that construction of the space station is complete and the orbiting laboratory has moved to the era of utilization.
"The nation and our international partners invested a great deal of resources in the station, and now we can begin to reap the benefits," he said. "The ASGSR is a forum to encourage scientists to consider developing experiments for the ISS."
Research on the space station has already led to numerous important discoveries such as learning that the food poisoning microbes Salmonella increases in virulence when grown in space. Researchers are using this discovery to develop new candidate vaccines.
Nutrition studies conducted on the space station have shown that diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with reduced bone loss. Additionally, drugs have been validated in the microgravity of space that helps decrease both bone and muscle loss among bedridden patients on Earth.
Additionally, a novel air scrubber developed for a spaceflight plant growth chamber is now in widespread use on Earth for food preservation and in homes and offices, killing 98 percent of airborne pathogens that pass through it. Altered gene functions in plants and other organisms flown in space have provided insights into the function of metabolic pathways that would not have been achievable based on Earth studies alone.
"We want to utilize ASGSR to let the science community know about what's already been done on the space station and opportunities for the future," Levine said. "Expanding opportunities for flying experiments in space has been one of my goals this year."
A native of Boston, Mass., Levine has had a longstanding interest in botany and zoological sciences. He attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he was awarded undergraduate and master's degrees in zoology and marine science. His studies focused on various aspects of shellfish aquaculture. He went on to earn a doctorate in botany based on research on the growth of algae.
As a postdoctoral researcher hired for the Marine Biomass Project at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Levine was actively involved in field work that ultimately established a kelp farm in Long Island Sound and a greenhouse facility designed for the cultivation of seaweeds.
Levine was also a principal member of the science team that conducted experiments utilizing NASA's Plant Growth Unit during three space shuttle missions between 1989 and 1993. He subsequently was employed as a research scientist at Kennedy with Bionetics Corp. in the space center's Plant Space Biology Laboratory and with Dynamac Corp. in the Gravitational Biology Lab, and has been involved in over 40 life science spaceflight experiments.
In 2004, Levine came to work for NASA where he provides technical oversight for the space agency's work with space station life science experiments and principal investigators. He is also chairman of Kennedy’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
"While I prefer doing work in a lab, much of my time now is spent assisting other scientists," he said.
Levine helps investigators learn how to move concepts for space station experiments through the NASA processes to reality aboard the orbiting laboratory.
"We want others to know how to utilize the space station," he said, "so we can maximize the benefits for everyone here on Earth."
Bob Granath NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center