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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

IMAGE: Scott Smith, middle, in Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas
Scott Smith, middle, monitors data in the Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas.

Scott Smith,
Johnson Space Center,
Houston, Texas

Dr. Scott Smith is the lead for JSC's Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory.

April 2003 - Astronauts living in space must be as concerned about their nutrition as Earth-bound humans. Perhaps even more so, as the human body tends to lose both calcium and muscle in microgravity.

Making sure astronauts stay healthy in space is the job of hundreds of people at NASA. One of those people is Dr. Scott M. Smith, the lead for the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"In a nutshell, our job is to determine the nutritional requirements for extended-duration space flight ... how many calories astronauts need in a day, how much calcium, iron, sodium, vitamins, minerals, etc.," Scott said.

"We do this in two ways. First, we check the levels of nutrients in the blood and urine of space station crews, both before and after their missions, and also monitor their diet during flight. Second, we conduct specific experiments to understand how space flight affects nutrition. For example, how much of a given nutrient, like calcium, do astronauts need? Also, we study how nutrition can affect the adaptation to space flight -- for instance, can we give astronauts extra calcium to stop bone loss?"

Scott has been at NASA for 11 years, after getting his Ph.D. in nutrition from Penn State and spending two years in North Dakota completing a Post Doctoral Fellowship. "I was looking for a real job and saw an ad in one of the nutrition scientific journals and thought 'wouldn't that be cool, working for NASA!' I figured they wouldn't take me, but that I would send off my resume anyway. A few weeks later I was flown down for an interview and several weeks later I was packing for a move to Houston!"

IMAGE: Scott Smith, left, aboard NASA's KSC-135 aircraft
Scott Smith, left, participates in the testing of International Space Station science hardware aboard NASA's KC-135 aircraft.

"The most memorable time for me in the past 11 years was the experience of working the STS-107 mission," Scott said."We had an experiment onboard and had worked with the crew for two and a half years in training and preflight data collection. If I had to pick one moment from this experience that stands out, it was early on January 16, just past dawn on the East Coast. I even remember at the time saying that it was the most incredible moment I had ever had at NASA.

"Our experiment on STS-107, called Calcium Kinetics, was one of four 'Physiology and Biochemistry-4' group of experiments, also known as the PhAB-4. The morning of launch, several members of our team were fortunate enough to be at the crew walkout -- the scene you always see on TV just before the crew rides out to the launch pad. We were holding up a huge banner that read 'THANKS FAB-7 FROM PhAB-4.' As the crew walked out of the building, for a moment that seemed to last forever, the crew stopped, pointed, and waved to us as they boarded the Astrovan. It was a moment I know I will cherish forever."

"NASA is indeed a team effort," Scott continued. "In the hours, days and weeks after the Columbia tragedy, this term was often, and appropriately, rephrased as the 'NASA Family.' As with any large family or organizational structure there are different levels, groups and subgroups. Even within the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory team, I always describe us as an eclectic group of individuals, each bringing special skills to the group, thereby enabling us to accomplish the work that we do. I am very lucky to get to work with such an incredible group of folks, and to think about the impact we have on the crews flying today, and even potentially on the exploration missions of tomorrow."

For those who would like to work for the space program, Smith has the following advice. "From a science, and specifically life science/physiology, perspective, you need to get as strong a background in your field as possible. Knowing space and/or space physiology isn't really required -- it is more important for you to know your field. Beyond that, study hard in all areas -- science, math, communication (written and oral) -- knowing a lot about one area, and nothing about the others, can cause you trouble."

For more information about the nutrition-related research being done by NASA, please visit the Web at: http://haco.jsc.nasa.gov/biomedical/nutrition/


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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