Space Shuttle

The graduate training program in Space Life Sciences at Texas A&M University is sponsored by:
Program Overview


The overall goal of the Mentored Research Program in Space Life Sciences (SLS) is to develop a cadre of scientists capable of performing the work necessary to solve the most critical problems in space life sciences that limit long duration space flight such as: 1) bone loss 2) muscle wasting 3) health effects of cosmic radiation 4) changes in metabolism and 5) the consequences of being in a catabolic state while in space. In addition, students will gain the specific training in either nutritional and/or exercise physiology countermeasures against these major biological problems.

Students eligible to apply for the program must be United States citizens who are applying to a Texas A&M University doctoral program in Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Kinesiology, Nuclear Engineering (Health Physics), Nutrition, or a M.D./Ph.D. or Ph.D. in Medical Sciences from the Texas A&M University Health Sciences Center Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Certificate in Space Life Sciences

The requirements to apply for the Mentored Research Program in Space Life Sciences are: 1) United States Citizenship; 2) a strong commitment to space life sciences; 3) a bachelor’s or master’s degree at an accredited university; and 4) a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 total scale. Those interested in participating in the training program can apply simultaneously to a Ph.D. doctoral program at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in either Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Kinesiology, Health Physics, Nutrition or a M.D./Ph.D. or Ph.D. in Medical Sciences from the TAMU Health Sciences Center (HSC) Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the training program. Acceptance into one of the doctoral programs mentioned above is required before a student is accepted into the training program.

Once accepted into the training program, all trainees/fellows must be willing to fulfill the four requirements to obtain the Certificate in Space Life Sciences. The four components are: 1) dissertation research in an area specific to space life sciences; 2) course work to broaden the student’s knowledge of space life sciences; 3) an experiential component at NASA/Johnson Space Center and a second component at UTMB, Galveston (participation in a bed rest project); the NASA Radiation Summer School at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island; or other relevant external experience. 4) an outreach component of sharing the excitement of space research with a class of K-12 students.

The four components for the Certificate total 17 additional credit hours from required course work and experiential components. At the completion of the Ph.D. and program requirements the student will obtain a Certificate in Space Life Sciences that will be on his/her University transcript. At this time, participating TAMU degree programs are: Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Kinesiology, Nuclear Engineering (Health Physics), Nutrition and M.D./Ph.D. or Ph.D. in Medical Sciences from the TAMU HSC Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

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Mandatory Courses

Trainees obtaining a Certificate in Space Life Sciences will be required to take an ethics course (1 unit), a seminar in space life sciences (1 unit), and three additional courses (9 units) including the Fundamentals of Space Life Sciences and two classes outside their discipline. For example, a student seeking their doctorate degree in kinesiology will take a required course in nutrition and nuclear engineering. A trainee will also participate in a minimum of 2 experiential training programs (6 units).

Total number of units required to obtain a Certificate in Space Life Sciences
Mandatory courses/training programs Units
Fundamentals of Space Life Sciences (KINE/NUEN/NUTR 646), 3 units 3
Scientific Ethics (VMID 686), 1 unit 1
Seminar in Space Life Sciences (KINE/NUEN/NUTR 681), 1 unit 1
Two courses outside the student’s discipline 6
     Applied Exercise Physiology (KINE 649), 3 units
     Theory and Applications of Microdosimetry (NUEN 615), 3 units
     Nutritional Biochemistry 1 (NUTR 641), 3 units
Two Directed Studies (minimum) (KINE/NUEN/NUTR 685) 6
     NASA/Johnson Space Center, 3 units
     The University of Texas Medical Branch, 3 units
     Brookhaven National Laboratory, 3 units
Total 17 units

The courses are listed on the Texas A&M University Office of Admission and Records web site.

Mandatory Course Description:

Fundamentals of Space Life Sciences. KINE/NUEN/NUTR 646 (3 units).

Provides an introduction to the many space life sciences issues associated with long duration space flight. Students will have an appreciation of the many different issues that do not directly relate to their own particular degree/research program. Topics to be covered include Space Physiology (e.g., space environment, musculo-skeletal system, cardiovascular system, exercise and research methods and techniques), Space Nutrition (e.g., nutritional requirements, ground based research models, effect of microgravity on specific requirements, role of nutrition in mediating bone and muscle wasting and radiation exposures), and Space Radiation (e.g., complex radiation environment, detection, biological effects of low- and high-LET radiation, countermeasures).

Scientific Ethics. VMID 686 (1 unit).

The course is an overview of ethical issues encountered by scientists in the conduct and dissemination of their research, in their pursuit of resources, in their interactions with the press and the broad public, and resulting from the extension and technological application of their findings.

Seminar in Space Life Sciences. KINE/NUEN/NUTR 681 (1 unit).

This seminar course “Seminar in Space Life Sciences” will be cross-listed and will be used to further foster opportunities for learning. Students and mentors discuss current research in Space Life Sciences and invited lectures, the most eminent researchers in the field, will lecture to further opportunities for learning and encourage student participation.

One course each in the two degree programs other than the one sought by the Ph.D. Student.

Applied Exercise Physiology. KINE 649 (3 units).

Covers how environmental factors (temperature, altitude, microgravity), development, aging, and gender alter the physiological responses to acute exercise and chronic physiological adaptations to exercise training. Students will understand the mechanisms responsible for the physiological responses and adaptations that occur in response to varying environmental conditions, and gain a basic understanding of the pathophysiology of cardiovascular, metabolic, and bone diseases and the physiological role of exercise in prevention and/or treatment of these diseases.

Radiation Component: Must complete 1 of 2 courses for Radiation credit:

Theory and Applications of Microdosimetry. NUEN 615 (3 units).

Acquire a working understanding of the physical and stochastic nature of radiation exposure at low doses, an appreciation for the significance of these properties as they influence the response of physical and biological systems to low dose and dose rate exposures, and an understanding of the methods used for evaluating energy deposition at low doses. The course will cover the processes involved in energy deposition, the definitions of microdosimetric quantities, mathematical simulation, measurement methods and instrumentation, data analysis, and applications including radiation protection and risk estimation.

Radiation Biology. NUEN 673 (3 units).

The response of biological systems to ionizing radiation at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels; effects of different dose levels with emphasis on the underlying mechanisms relevant to long term health effects at low doses. Prerequisite: NUEN 409 or graduate classification.

Nutritional Biochemistry 1. NUTR 641 (3 units).

Covers mechanisms of intestinal absorption of nutrients. Integration of the intermediary metabolism of glucose, amino acids, lipids with nutrition, physiology, and pathophysiology in animals. Regulation of metabolic pathways in cells, tissues, and the whole body under normal and disease conditions. Functions of vitamins and minerals in nutrient metabolism and health.

View a model plan for students seeking a doctoral degree in Kinesiology, Nuclear Engineering (Health Physics), Nutrition or Medical Sciences plus the Certificate.

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Experiential Component

Each student will complete a training program at NASA/Johnson Space Center during the summer of their first year in the graduate program. The trainee will then choose a second external experience by participating in research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), Brookhaven National Laboratory Radiation Summer School, or another lab with Space Life Sciences research. Individuals at NASA/JSC, UTMB and Brookhaven National Laboratory will facilitate training opportunities using research tools and techniques not available on the Texas A&M campus.


NASA/Johnson Space Center (JSC), Clear Lake, T.X.
During the training program, students will have opportunities to work in individual laboratories located at JSC. These laboratories include Exercise Physiology, Nutritional Biochemistry, and Radiation Biodosimetry. The Johnson Space Center has a variety of formalized Education and Student Programs available to graduate students. If desired, trainees in the Ph.D. program could apply for positions in the Cooperative Education Program and the Graduate Student Researcher Program.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB)
UTMB has a General Clinical Research Center that can house 12 volunteers, and includes full dietary and nursing support. Many bed-rest studies are conducted here, providing an excellent learning environment for graduate students who desire to learn how such studies are conducted. Equipment is available to perform sample isolation, processing, derivations, and analysis using techniques such as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, isotope ratio mass spectrometry, and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y.
Students will apply to participate in the Brookhaven National Laboratory rotation during the year they wish to participate in the program. Up to fifteen students are accepted to participate in the NASA Space Radiation Summer School. Graduate students will gain training in the important areas of space radiation biology and protection and simulates space radiation. Students will have access to equipment necessary to monitor cellular and systemic responses to radiation. Course work covers the space radiation environment, charged particle physics, and radiobiology of high LET radiation, as well as other topics determined by the needs of the group in attendance. Laboratory exercises include physical measurement techniques (dosimetry), DNA damage and repair, in vitro cell response measurements, in vivo chromosome aberration and cell population quantification. Topics include photon and charged-particle irradiation techniques for biochemical samples, cultured cells, and laboratory animals. Eligibility Requirements

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Research Program

All trainees must successfully defend a dissertation related to space life sciences. Students will work with a strong research core of space life scientists at Texas A&M, UTMB, NASA/JSC and Brookhaven National Laboratory who are working on issues critical to the success of long duration space flight, i.e. muscle loss, bone loss and radiation-enhanced cancer and countermeasures against these critical problems (diet and exercise).

View a list of research/teaching faculty.

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Teaching/Service Training Program

Fellows will receive training in how to communicate information on space life sciences to others by participating in the Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health (PEER) and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program (STEM). These programs, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), promote development of the next generation of scientists and workers in biomedical and health-related sciences. Students will be trained on how to make streaming videos on space life sciences for use in a K-12 classroom. In addition, they will learn from K-12 teachers on how to present materials on space life sciences in the classroom. Trainees will be encouraged to attend the Graduate Teaching Seminar Series offered by the Center for Teaching Excellence. The seminar series covers such topics as: Faculty Professional Development, mentor-Protégé Relationships, Effective Time Management, Writing Effective Research Grant Proposals, Developing a Teaching Portfolio, Peer Review of Teaching, Balancing personal and Professional Life.

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Two fellowships are offered each year that provide 9 months of support, including a $22,800 stipend, tuition and fee waivers, insurance, and up to $1,000 in meeting travel expenses.

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