The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NASA signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday to use the International Space Station (ISS) as a new platform for health research.
The two agencies entered into an agreement that can "help American scientists use the ISS to answer questions about human health and diseases," said a statement released by NASA on Wednesday.
"The pact signals to researchers the availability of a remarkable platform on which to conduct experiments." it said.
"Not only will the station help in our efforts to explore the moon, Mars and beyond, its resources also can be applied for a much broader purpose -- improving human health," said Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator.
NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni said that the station provides a unique environment where researchers can explore fundamental questions about human health issues including how the human body heals itself, fights infection or develops diseases such as cancer or osteoporosis.
Compared with the Earth-bound laboratories where researchers conduct experiments every day, the facility at the station provides a virtually gravity-free environment where the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie human diseases can be explored.
NASA sent U.S. Congress a plan in May describing how the U.S. segment of the ISS can be used as a national laboratory. The report outlines possible partnerships with other government agencies and private companies to conduct research aboard the station.
As part of the agreement, NIH and NASA will encourage space-related health research by exchanging information and providing technical expertise in areas of common interest. The two agencies will also facilitate and share each other's research and development efforts.
In addition, NIH and NASA have agreed to coordinate publicity of mutually beneficial activities, publications and research results.