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KBR’s Trailblazing Contributions for AI-Driven Astronaut Biology and Health in Space

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Charting New Frontiers in Deep Space Exploration

How can humanity thrive in deep space? What types of technologies are essential to support astronaut health, sustain ecosystems, secure crops or food supplies, and carry out research experiments during long-distance and long-duration space missions? 

These are the pivotal questions at the heart of groundbreaking research at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California that is supported by KBR employees through the Fully Integrated Lifecycle Mission Support Services (FILMSS) contract. Scientists, engineers, technicians, administrators, and project managers from KBR work on a wide range of activities supporting life sciences research and exploration. KBR integrates artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into upcoming space health systems and biological research on missions to low Earth orbit (LEO), the Moon and Mars. 

Recently four KBR scientists supported studies by Scott et al. (2023) and Sanders et al. (2023) in the scientific journal Nature Machine Intelligence, providing valuable insights into these challenges of deep space missions. These works advocate a fundamental shift to healthcare and research methodologies that are Earth-independent, a strategy critical for the success of prolonged Moon and Mars missions. 

Scott et al. (2023) present a transformative approach to aerospace biomedicine, emphasizing advanced biomonitoring, biomarker science, and intelligent systems. These Earth-derived AI advancements in health and medicine are essential for developing a precision space health system designed to function autonomously with AI. The ideal system would deliver continuous, proactive care and monitoring of astronaut health and their environment, reflecting personalization, prediction, prevention, and participation.

Sanders et al. (2023) address the biological effects of spaceflight on life forms, setting the stage for deep space travel and the design of research platforms, spacecraft and habitats. The goal is to engineer ecosystems for sustaining life during long-term missions. This involves automated, flexible, and intelligent systems to conduct experiments and manage operations with minimal crew time, intervention, or Earth reliance. 

These initiatives are expected to advance our understanding of spaceflight’s biological impacts, enhance predictive models and analytics, and standardize automated experimental methods. Sanders et al. (2023) also discusses the imperative of data management, emphasizing metadata and open science data sharing to enable the global public to engage with life science discoveries aiding space exploration.

Highlighted in a Nature Machine Intelligence package of articles on AI and robotics and an editorial titled, “Space missions out of this world with AI,” these publications underscore the transformative impact of KBR’s endeavors. Both articles are set to be featured again in a 2024 ‘Nature Portfolio’ collection amidst other seminal research on spaceflight biology and health, further validating KBR’s influential role in the domain.

In fact, KBR’s role at NASA Ames in AI and ML applications for space health and biology goes beyond scientific achievements – they represent a strategic vision and practical solutions for the challenges of deep space exploration. Through their innovative approaches and collaborative efforts, KBR with its customers and partners is pioneering new frontiers in space research, contributing significantly to humanity's ambition to become a multi-planetary species.

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Figure from Scott et al. (2023) in Nature Machine Intelligence on the Precision Space Health system, and the various roles of AI/ML.