Space Studies Board Annual Report 1999

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

National Academy Press
Washington, D.C.



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

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Space Studies Board: Annual Report 1999 The Space Studies Board is a unit of the National Research Council, which serves as an independent adviser 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 and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contract 50-DKNA-6-90040.

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Space Studies Board: Annual Report 1999 From the Chair This annual report provides a snapshot of the activities of the Space Studies Board and its committees and task groups during 1999. It documents only those reports actually released in 1999—a considerably larger number were in preparation for later release. It is notable that of the seven full reports issued in 1999, two deal with the International Space Station and three address aspects of NASA’s Origins program. Six years ago, when I became chair of the SSB and began writing these forewords, the launch of the initial ISS element was in the distant future, and the concept of a broad program focusing on Origins was awaiting the galvanizing announcement of possible evidence for past life on Mars. My 1994 commentary referred instead to the sense of urgency surrounding NASA, engendered by revolutionary changes sweeping through the agency. The foreword to the 1995 report highlighted another year of profound change, and it was only in 1996 (the year of Mars rock publicity) that I could describe a perceived diminution in the turmoil. In 1997 and 1998, events like the success of Mars Pathfinder, the Shuttle/Mirrendezvous, and the inaugural ISS launch suggested that, though far from equilibrium, the space program was beginning to settle into a new epoch. Looking back at that history helps put the space events of 1999 into some perspective. There were great successes, such as the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory (my own pet project) and the first mission of the long-awaited Earth Observing System. But the failure of two ambitious low-cost missions to Mars showed that NASA’s transition to new ways of doing business was still in need of adjustment. First, it must be said that the faster-better-cheaper paradigm, which is central to the changes at NASA, has been extremely positive for space research. The greater frequency of missions and shorter mission development times have enhanced scientific vigor and lowered costs. But several challenges remain. Some are technical; others deal with internal agency management, with methods of passing the benefits to missions of all sizes, and with how to incorporate international cooperation. And issues remain in how best to foster advanced technology, the key enabler of all space missions, including the weather satellites of NOAA. These are some of the topics that the Board examined during 1999 in connection with reports to be released the following year. My retrospective remarks on these pages have a personal motivation. This is the last foreword I will write, since my second 3-year term as chair ends in June 2000. For me it has been a great privilege to work with many hundreds of dedicated volunteers and dozens of talented NRC staff, particularly SSB director Marc Allen for several years and, more recently, Joseph Alexander. I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of them.

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Space Studies Board: Annual Report 1999 My successor, John McElroy of the University of Texas, will be taking up the gavel of the SSB in July 2000. John brings tremendous experience and ability to the Board, which will surely thrive under his leadership. It is with a keen sense of hope and optimism that I look forward to another annual report some years hence, when he reflects on his years as chair and when we will celebrate the continued evolution of a robust space research and applications program. Claude R. Canizares Chair Space Studies Board May 2000