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Hastings Center News

Global Team Recommends Ethical Framework for Human Research in Commercial Spaceflight

The first ethical framework for conducting human research on commercial spaceflight was proposed today in an article in Science by an international team that included Hastings Center president Vardit Ravitsky. Ravitsky’s contribution focused on promoting diversity among the researchers and participants, which is essential to ensuring the research benefits society at large.

Human research on commercial spaceflight is expected to expand significantly in the near future, and yet there are no rules for conducting this research in an ethical manner—as there are in research conducted on Earth and in federally-funded spaceflight.

The ethical framework is anchored in four guiding principles:

  • Social responsibility: Those privileged to have the opportunity to travel in space should contribute to research activities that benefit society at large.
  • Scientific excellence: Studies should be well-designed, high-priority, and original.
  • Proportionality: Studies should have maximum social value and do minimal harm to individual participants and others involved.
  • Stewardship: The benefits of human space exploration and its resources should be enjoyed by all.

“At present, commercial spaceflight is accessible to the privileged few–people who are wealthy enough to pay—and is not representative of society in terms of socioeconomic status, gender, age, health, and genetic ancestry,” said Ravitsky. “This lack of diversity raises justice concerns. Findings from research with participants lacking diversity may not be generalizable to society at large. The growth in human research on commercial spaceflights poses a historic opportunity to address underrepresentation and ensure the benefits of such research are relevant to all, whether on Earth or in space.”

The policy paper was written by a global, multidisciplinary team of bioethicists, health policy experts, space health researchers, commercial spaceflight professionals, and government regulators. It is the result of a workshop held at the Banbury Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and funded by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health through a NASA Cooperative Agreement.

Watch Vardit Ravitsky discuss the ethical framework for human research in commercial spaceflight