But many companies are already banking on the promise of developing medical breakthroughs on the International Space Station. Ruttley says NASA's research on the human body has already led to greater understanding about bone, muscle, and heart atrophy, vision impairments, and more.
Mike Gold, director of D.C. operations and business growth at Bigelow Aerospace, a company developing commercial spaceflight solutions, says that private industry's ability to go to space will speed up research.
"We're underestimating the impact of [microgravity research and development] on our economy," he told the Senate panel last week, adding that researchers at Johns Hopkins University are interested in developing cancer drugs in space and other companies are studying treatments for muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis based on space research.
"The companies and countries that have an expertise in microgravity manufacturing will be the economic giants of the future, and the first place we're going to see that is in pharmaceuticals," he told U.S. News in a separate interview. But he says researchers need to be able to send experiments to space more often before any treatments become a reality.
"Scientists need to be able to repeat an experiment a number of times," he says. "We can't fly an experiment once and then wait five years to fly it again. To become a reality, we need to allow researchers to fly their experiments numerous times to get results."
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com