Open science practices in space biology: NASA’s Open Science Data Repository

Don Petit/NASA (2012)

The NASA Open Science Data Repository (OSDR) is a recently implemented open science program from NASA’s Division of Biological and Physical Sciences. It is an interactive open-access database, specimen repository, and collaboration space that incorporates the Ames Life Sciences Data Archive (ALSDA), the NASA Biological Institutional Scientific Collection (NBISC), the Space Biology Biospecimen Sharing Program (BSP) and GeneLab. From 2014, GeneLab has hosted omics data generated in investigations on the International Space Station, other spaceflight platforms, and in space-relevant ground studies.

GeneLab Strategic Plan/NASA (2014)

This case study examines the data processing and sharing practices enabled by OSDR and the role of the Analysis Working Groups (AWGs) implemented in 2018 to bring together users of the data. The case study examines how the intricate experimental conventions and operational limitations of spaceflight experiments get inscribed in the datasets and become tools for researchers to generate new biological insights. We also look at how open science practices are transforming the space biology community as the AWGs bring together scientists from academia, space agencies, and industry to engage with the data in three main ways: first, providing feedback for OSDR regarding analytic pipelines and metadata standards; second, reanalysing and comparing datasets; and third, collaborating to design new experiments.

The goal is to shed light on how open science practices are transforming the research program in this field, and the complex relationship between the principles of maximizing discovery and democratizing access.



Peer-reviewed articles

  • Castaño, Paola. (2023) “Plant Biologists and the International Space Station: Institutionalising a Scientific Community”. In: Routledge Handbook of Social Studies of Outer Space edited by Juan Francisco Salazar and Alice Gorman. Routledge.
  • Castaño, Paola (Forthcoming). “The Scales of Plant Experimentation in Low Earth Orbit”. Off Earth Atlas edited by Perig Pitrou, Istvan Praet, David Jeevendrampillai, and Victor Buchli. Intellect Books.
  • Castaño, Paola and Leonelli Sabina (Under review) “Defining ‘Space’ in Plant Space Biology: Metadata Practices as Experimental Controls in NASA’s GeneLab.”
  • Castaño, Paola (In preparation). NASA Open Science Data Repository’s Analysis Working Groups Survey Report.
  • Castaño, Paola (In preparation) “Bridging Expertise and Building Communities in Space Biology: NASA Open Science Data Repository’s Analysis Working Groups” for Special Issue on Data Communities co-edited with Federica Bocchi and Emma Cavazzoni.


Invited Talks

  • “New Insights about Plant Space Experiments through Data Sharing: A Philosophical/Sociological Perspective”. NASA GeneLab Plant Analysis Working Group. Online, May 10, 2023
  • “Sociology and Scientific Research in Space”. NASA GeneLab for High School Program. Online, July 7, 2022.
  • “Experiments, Communities, and Datasets: Sociological Notes about Plant Biology on the International Space Station”. One O’clock Space Lecture, UCL (Online). March 15, 2022
  • “The International Space Station as a Platform for Plant Biology: Institutionalising a Research Community”. Egenis Seminar, University of Exeter (Online). February 21, 2022

Submitted Conference Presentations

  • “Bridging Expertise for Space Biology: NASA Open Science Data Repository’s Analysis Working Groups”. NASA Analysis Working Groups Symposium. Online, May 1, 2024
  • “Building Open Science Communities in Space Biology”. Presentation and panel co-organized between PHIL_OS and NASA Open Science Data Repository. American Society of Gravitational and Space Research, Washington DC, November 19, 2023
  • “What is an institutionalized community of data users? NASA’s GeneLab and the Analysis Working Groups” International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology. Toronto, July 12, 2023.
  • “Defining ‘Space’ through Data Sharing: Plant Space Experiments and NASA’s GeneLab” with Sabina Leonelli. Philosophy in Biology and Medicine (PhilInBioMed) Network Meeting. Cambridge University, May 9, 2023.
  • “‘Scaling up’ Space Biology: The Concept of Reference Experiment” with Dana Tulodziecki. International Conference on Large-Scale Experiments. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe (Online). December 10, 2022.
  • “Data Processing as Sharing Practice: Making Space Plant Biology at NASA’s GeneLab” SPSP, Ghent (Online). July 3, 2022

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