Since 1969, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a private, nonprofit corporation, has worked closely with NASA. USRA's Division of Space Biomedicine was founded in 1983 to address the biomedical issues faced by humans in space. Harrison Schmitt, lunar module pilot of Apollo 17, was named as the first Director of the Division. In late 1990, the Division was renamed the Division of Space Life Sciences (DSLS) reflecting a broader charter: "to stimulate, encourage, and assist research in the NASA life sciences." This charter continues today and is encapsulated within three broad programs: the Science Program, the Extramural Support Program and the Education Program.


Scientist of the Month



Johnny Conkin, Ph.D.Our Scientist of the Month for February is Johnny Conkin, Ph.D. for his poster, “Designing an Exploration Atmosphere Prebreathe Protocol,” which was presented at the 2015 Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, January 13–15 in Galveston, Texas. 


Extravehicular activities (EVAs) at remote locations must maximize limited oxygen (O2) resources and minimize the risk of decompression sickness (DCS). The proposed denitrogenation protocol requires subjects to live in a mildly hypoxic atmosphere at 8.2 psia while performing repetitive EVAs at 4.3 psia. Empirical data are required to confirm that any new protocol meets accept requirements: ≤ 15% incidence of Type I DCS, ≤ 20% incidence of Grade IV venous gas emboli (VGE), both at 95% statistical confidence, with no Type II DCS symptoms.

Previously Featured Scientist of the Month




Our Scientist of the Month for January was Ronita Cromwell, Ph.D. for her poster, “Ocular Outcomes Comparison Between 14- and 70-day Head-down Tilt Bed Rest,” which was presented at the 2015 Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, January 13–15 in Galveston, Texas.  DSLS team members named on this poster are: Drs. Susana Zanello, Patrice Yarbough, and Rob Ploutz-Snyder.


Ophthalmological changes have been recently reported in some astronauts involved in long-duration space missions.  Elevated intracranial pressure resulting from μG-induced cephalad fluid shifts may be responsible for most of these findings.  Further Head Down Tilt Bed Rest (HDTBR) studies with different duration and/or angle of tilt and/or environmental conditions (e.g., high CO2 exposure during HDTBR) may help determine the validity of the HDTBR analog to investigate microgravity-induced ophthalmological changes distance and near visual acuity was 20/20 or better pre- and post-HDTBR in all subjects.



USRA Quarterly Display




Community Outreach Highlight


Space Station Live: Short, High-Intensity Exercise to Stay in Space Shape

Dr. Ploutz-Snyder

Public Affairs Office Amiko Kauderer interviews Lori L. Ploutz-Snyder, lead investigator of the long-running Sprint VO2 exercise experiment. The study investigates high-intensity, low duration exercise techniques on the space station using a resistance device, an exercise bike and a treadmill. Watch the video.

NASA Space Radiation


Humans In Space Art Competition

Humans in Space Art

A Message from the Director

Welcome to the Division of Space Life Sciences (DSLS) at USRA Houston. As part of a non-profit entity, DSLS has the mission to support NASA and other Federal entities by conducting and managing research that addresses the risks to humans before, during, and after space exploration. DSLS provides high profile scientists, physicians, collaborators, and science managers to the NASA Space Life Sciences Directorate and the Human Research Program (HRP). Additionally, DSLS conducts and hosts major science meetings, seminars, and workshops. The full-time scientist team is made up of 19 scientists from many disciplines within life sciences. DSLS provides an excellent working environment for collegial intellectual exchange.


Dr. Neal R. Pellis, Director

UTMB Aerospace Medicine Grand Rounds

Monthly Aerospace Medicine Grand Rounds seminars

are held at USRA Houston on the 4th Tuesday of each month (January– October).


Please check back for information on upcoming seminars.



Research Projects


Digital AstronautThe Digital Astronaut Project

Applying Computational Modelling to Preserve the Health of Astronauts





Video Highlights

HRP Spaceflight Analogs
Optic nerve compression


Human Health and Performance in Space

Human Health and Performance in SpaceThe Human Health and Performance in Space Portal is an informal collection of articles, sites and pages discussing the effects of space flight, travel and habitation on astronauts and other space flight participants.

Featured Books

Space PharmacologySpace Pharmacology, written by DSLS Senior Scientist Virginia E. Wotring, Ph.D., is a review of the current knowledge and use of pharmaceuticals during spaceflight.  It provides a comprehensive study of the literature, addressing each area of pharmacokinetics and all major physiological systems in turn. 


Dr. Wotring is Pharmacology Discipline Lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Human Heath and Countermeasures Division.


Human Adaptation to Spaceflight: The Role of Nutrition was co-authored by DSLS scientist Sara R. Zwart, Ph.D.  (excerpt) “The importance of nutrition in exploration has been documented repeatedly throughout history, on voyages across oceans, on expeditions across polar ice, and on treks across unexplored continents.”  In this book, key areas of nutrition concerns during spaceflight, including loss of body mass and depletion of body nutrient stores, are reviewed in general and in detail with respect to the role of nutrition and specific nutrients.  Existing knowledge is highlighted as well as gaps where additional research is needed.


Dr. Zwart is a Senior Scientist at USRA and the Deputy Manager for Nutritional Biochemistry at the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.