There are several fundamental issues to be addressed when considering the advantages and disadvantages of the transfer of NSF’s astronomy and astrophysics responsibilities to NASA:

  • Integration of ground- and space-based research

It is certainly plausible that a well-integrated program would emerge if all astronomy and astrophysics operations were the responsibility of a single agency. Integration of the space and ground parts of astronomy and astrophysics research was a high priority of the most recent decadal survey report. Bringing the federally funded astronomy and astrophysics effort into one agency could facilitate this integration.

  • Integration of privately and federally funded ground-based optical/infrared programs

For ground-based optical/infrared astronomy, much of the observing power resides in telescopes constructed with private and/or state funds and owned and operated by universities or private institutions. Incorporating the NSF astronomy and astrophysics program into the NASA organization would not, by itself, solve a major issue in ground-based astronomy, namely, effective integration of the private telescope facilities into the larger system. Since working closely with the university community is a traditional NSF strength, that agency seems better suited to address this problem.

  • Efficiency of program and project management

While both agencies have from time to time encountered serious problems in managing specific projects, each has had overall success in project management. On one hand, moving ground-based astronomy into NASA would enable the application of its disciplined style of project management, with announcements of opportunity and integration of technology development, conceptual design, instrument development, operations, data collection and distribution, and research and analysis. On the other hand, NSF could achieve the same objective without disrupting its active astronomy program by strengthening its style of project management. Establishing practices that allow for stable long-term operation and optimum scientific use of facilities would have many advantages for NSF and its growth strategy. Open bidding for all phases of new national facilities would directly strengthen the university research community, and thereby the field. In addition, NSF has the flexibility to respond to new ideas and proposals that emerge from that community in areas not anticipated by “top-down” strategic plans and not associated with major facili-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement