Dr. Craig Kundrot is the Biological and Physical Sciences Division Director in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. He is responsible for providing strategic direction for the division and overseeing the planning and execution of its two-pronged mission of pioneering scientific discovery and enabling human spaceflight exploration.
The Division’s research is focused on using attributes of the spaceflight environment, such as altered gravity and space radiation, as experimental tools to study biological and physical systems in ways not possible on Earth. The Space Biology research ranges from microbes to plants and animals to the ecosystem within spacecraft. Physical Sciences research includes fluid physics, combustions, materials science, biophysics, condensed matter physics, and quantum physics. The weightless environment of the International Space Station is the most common research platform used in the programs, but many other platforms on the ground, in atmospheric flight, sub-orbital flight and orbital flight, are also used. The results of the research provide benefits back to our lives on Earth and help enable sustainable human exploration of space.
Prior to the establishment of the Biological and Physical Sciences Division in the Science Mission Directorate in 2020, Dr. Kundrot was the Director of the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) Division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate.
Dr. Kundrot has a BA from Northwestern University in Integrated Science and a MPhil and PhD from Yale University in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. After a post-doctoral fellowship at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, he held a faculty position at the University of Colorado studying protein and RNA structure-function relationships using x-crystallography. He then joined NASA’s biotechnology program in 1998 at Marshall Space Flight Center serving as a project scientist and then principal investigator for a competitively awarded flight project. Dr. Kundrot subsequently assumed science management positions for biotechnology and materials science.
He moved to the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2006, where he served as the Deputy Chief Scientist and as the first Mission Scientist for the HRP’s Twins Study. He also served as Chair of the Institutional Review Board at NASA Johnson Space Center, helping to formulate NASA’s genetic research policy for astronauts. In 2015, Dr. Kundrot became the Life Sciences Lead in the Office of the Chief Scientist at NASA Headquarters to coordinate life science research capability in astrobiology, human research, planetary protection, and space biology within NASA. Dr. Kundrot became the SLPSRA Director in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in 2016. He has authored numerous scientific papers and earned several NASA awards for science and management.
Dr. Kundrot was born in Illinois and is married with two children.
Keynote on May 3:
Expanding the use of CubeSats and SmallSats in SMD’s newest division: Biological and Physical Sciences
This talk will focus on how the Biological and Physical Sciences Division (BPSD) is looking forward to using CubeSats and SmallSats in its two-pronged mission to pioneer scientific discovery and enable exploration. BPSD's history and broad spectrum of scientific disciplines will be described with a focus on how CubeSats and SmallSats have been used in the program and the basis for their expanded use in the future. Several types of potential experiments will be described along with technical capabilities required to support them. An overview of the Decadal Survey for BPSD, "Recapturing a Future of Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era" will be provided along with the status of the next Decadal Survey for 2023-2032 which is now underway. The linkage between the next Decadal Survey and the future of CubeSats and SmallSats in the BPSD portfolio in 1, 5, and 10 years will be discussed along with ways the community can engage the Decadal Survey process and BPSD planning efforts.
Tony Ricco received BS and PhD degrees in chemistry from UC Berkeley and MIT, respectively. He’s held positions at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Heidelberg, ACLARA BioSciences, the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (Dublin), Stanford University, and NASA Ames Research Center. His R&D experience includes chemical microsensors and microsystems; polymer microfluidic systems for biotech research and pathogen detection; point-of-care medical diagnostic devices; integrated autonomous bioanalytical systems for space biology and astrobiology studies aboard small satellites; and search-for life analytical payloads for missions to the icy worlds of the solar system.
At NASA/Ames, he served as project technologist for the GeneSat, PharmaSat, O/OREOS, EcAMSat and SporeSat spaceflight nanosatellite missions; instrument scientist and mission manager for the O/OREOS mission; and payload technologist for the BioSentinel deep space mission. He is PI of the NASA projects SPLIce: Sample Processor for Life on Icy Worlds and MICA: Microfluidic Icy-world Chemical Analyzer, and a member of the ESA Topical Team on Future Astrobiology Experiments in Earth Orbit and Beyond.
Tony is co-author of over 400 presentations, 250 publications, and 20 issued patents. He was an E.T.S. Walton Fellow (Science Foundation Ireland), is a Fellow of The Electrochemical Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and serves as Vice President of the Transducer Research Foundation. He is presently an editor of Frontiers in Space Technologies and Nature Publishing Group’s Microgravity.
Keynote on May 4: Leveraging Cubesat Payload Technologies to Search for Life on our Solar System’s Icy Worlds
Over the past two decades, small satellites including cubesats have demonstrated their value as comparatively low-cost spaceflight platforms with which to achieve educational, technology-demonstration, space-exploration, and science goals. NASA’s Ames Research Center has led the development of cubesat payload technologies that carry microbial life into space in service of astrobiology and space biology experiments in Earth orbit—and, with the launch of the 6U BioSentinel planned for late 2021—interplanetary space.
While these technologies progress, a very different class of life-in-space mission is being contemplated. Due to their large, liquid oceans beneath kilometers-thick ice crusts, the moons Europa and Enceladus are regarded as two of the most feasible non-terrestrial environments in our solar system for the development and support of (microbial) life. To search for such life will require multi-instrument science payloads that capture, process, and analyze icy samples, many analyses being conducted in aqueous phase on sample quantities on microliter-volume samples.
A range of the technologies and strategies we have developed and demonstrated to study life aboard cubesats in Earth orbit and beyond serve as an effective foundation for search-for-life (bio)analytical systems, including:
- autonomous handling of specimens that (may) contain biological organisms in space,
- managing and analyzing microliter-volume samples at (much)-reduced gravity levels, including bubble mitigation methods,
- building and integrating payloads from biocompatible materials, ultra-low organic contamination, and zero contamination by unwanted microbes,
- flying a fluidic system in the dry state, with bubble-free wet-out at the start of mission operations,
- storing organisms or reagents in the dry state, with reconstitution as needed,
- materials and electronics tolerance of ionizing radiation environments, and
- low-power, closed-loop-based thermal management methods.
Following the maxim that extraordinary claims, such as the discovery of non-terrestrial life, require extraordinarily unambiguous proof, we are developing the sample processor for life on icy worlds (SPLIce) to serve as the enabling fluidic system integrating an icy-moon sample-collection system with a suite of analytical instruments selected for the breadth and complementarity of their methods and analytical outputs. The functions that SPLIce must include, which depend on the details of the mission, sample, and instrument suite, include such operations as sample retrieval from a collector; reagent, buffer and standard reconstitution and delivery; reagent dilution; sample concentration; degassing/de-bubbling; removing salts; adjusting pH or ionic strength; adding dyes or molecular labels to facilitate detection; filtering, capturing, and staining of particles for microscopy; delivering particle-free aliquots to instruments.