Space Studies Board

Annual Report



National Academy Press
Washington, D.C.

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Space Studies Board Space Studies Board Annual Report 1998 NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL National Academy Press Washington, D.C. 1999

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Space Studies Board The Space Studies Board is a unit of the National Research Council, which serves as an independent advisor to the federal government on scientific and technical questions of national importance. The Research Council, jointly administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, brings the resources of the entire scientific and technical community to bear through its volunteer advisory committees. Support for the work of the Space Studies Board and its committees and task groups was provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration contract NASW-96013, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contract 50-DKNA-6-90040, and National Science Foundation grant AST-9618081.

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Space Studies Board From the Chair The launch of the first elements of the International Space Station in the fall of 1998 also launched a new epoch for NASA, one as distinct as the Apollo or Shuttle eras and as different from either as they are from one another. The sheer scale of the space station as a multi-national endeavor, as a flight project, and as an orbital structure dwarfs anything that preceded it. Consider, for example, the 87 U.S. and Russian launches and nearly 1000 hours of space walks required during the 5-year construction period, or the 360-foot wingspan and nearly half-million-kilogram mass of the final assembly. No one who has walked around and through the full-sized mock-up at Johnson Space Center can fail to be impressed with the magnitude of this undertaking. Awesome as these features are, they fail to capture some of the more subtle factors that might be even more important for the future of the space agency. These include the magnitude of ongoing space station operations for at least the next two decades, the heightened vulnerability of an aging shuttle fleet, the imperatives for ensuring adequate future launch capability for crews and cargo, and the risks associated with technical or programmatic difficulties, reliance on international partners, and the need for uninterrupted public and political support. All in all, the constant attention demanded by having such a major asset in Earth orbit, magnified manifold, of course, by the expectation that it will be permanently inhabited, introduces a continuing and sustained level of urgency sure to affect the entire agency. At its best the station could become what the proponents suggest: a triumph of engineering on the high frontier, a model of international cooperation, a useful laboratory for some aspects of physiology, biology, physics, and technology, and the place where we learn enough about long-duration spaceflight to enable future human exploration of the solar system. One might even see the beginnings of some commercial ventures. At its worst, according to the detractors, the station could become a technical, programmatic, and budgetary nightmare with limited scientific returns, causing divisions among the partners and indifference or antagonism from the public. The truth will surely lie somewhere between these two extremes. Another important trend in 1998 was a continued increase in the fraction of NASA's budget devoted to science, up from 25% in fiscal year 1991 to 32% in fiscal 1999. Thanks to this, and even more so to the new approaches that the agency and the community now take toward mission design and management, the mood among most space and Earth scientists is decidedly more optimistic than in recent years. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing mood at the onset of the Shuttle era, when most correctly foresaw a long fallow period for space research.

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Space Studies Board As for the Space Studies Board, 1998 was a record year in terms of productivity. The SSB and its committees and task groups issued a dozen major reports and three short ones. These range from a broad strategy for space biology and medicine, particularly relevant for the space station era, through several studies of opportunities for research in the solar system, to an examination of small spaceborne radars for remote sensing of Earth and consideration of ways to integrate research needs into the converged NOAA/DOD polar satellite program. Three of the SSB reports take broad cuts across all the science disciplines at NASA to consider research and data analysis, technology development, and U.S.-European collaboration. The last of these was a product of our own international collaboration with the SSB's sister group, the European Space Science Committee. All three reports address issues that profoundly affect future research and touch nearly every individual investigator. NASA has opportunities to continue improving and optimizing current programs and practices in each area. The combination of a reinvigorated space and Earth science program with the promise and uncertainty of the space station sets the stage for space research in the first decades of the new millennium. Our hope is that the activities and reports summarized here will help the agencies, their government overseers, and the whole space community meet the technical and management challenges ahead and reap major scientific returns from our nation's significant investment in space. Claude R. Canizares Chair Space Studies Board April 1999