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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan I Introduction Background The Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) is one of four science and technology program offices within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The ESE deals with space missions and research aimed at observing and “understanding the Earth system and its responses to natural and human-induced changes to enable improved prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards for present and future generations.”1 Approximately 34 percent of the $1.6 billion ESE budget for FY2002 is devoted to research and technology, and 50 percent is spent on mission development and operations.2 The Applications Division within the ESE has responsibility for both the ESE Applications Program and its education and public outreach activities. The total Applications Division budget in FY2002 is $95 million, of which $77 million is allocated to applications.3 The Conference Report (House Report 106–988) accompanying the FY2001 VA-HUD-Independent Agencies Appropriations Act (Public Law 106–377) directed NASA to develop a 10-year strategy and funding profile to extend the benefits of Earth science, technology, and data results beyond the traditional science community and address practical, near-term problems. In addition, the Conference Report (House Report 106–843) accompanying the NASA Authorization Act for FY2000–2002 (Public Law 106–391) directed NASA to report on the Agency’s long-term plan to promote scientific applications of U.S. commercial remote sensing capabilities through the purchase of data, development of applications, and collaboration with industry, research universities, and other government agencies. As a part of the ESE strategic planning process, the ESE program office prepared a science plan, NASA Earth Science Enterprise Research Strategy for 2000–2010, which was reviewed by the National Research Council (NRC) in 2000.4 The present report reviews the ESE Applications Plan, Earth Science Enterprise Applications Strategy for 2002–2012. 1 NASA, 2000, Exploring Our Home Planet: Earth Science Enterprise Strategic Plan. 2 Details of the FY2002 budget are given online at <http://ifmp.nasa.gov/codeb/budget2003/14-Earth_Science.pdf>. 3 NASA’s budget request for FY2003 includes a total of $43.6 million for applications. According to NASA and OMB officials, the difference between FY2002 and FY2003 reflects the fact that the administration did not request continuation of additions made to the budget by the Congress during the FY2002 appropriations process. 4 NRC, 2000, Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Research Strategy for 2000–2010, Space Studies Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 41 pp.
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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan Charge and Approach The Earth Science Enterprise Applications Strategy for 2002–2012 (the Applications Plan5) was prepared in January 2002. In response to a request from NASA (Appendix A), the Committee to Review NASA’s Earth Science Applications Plan was established by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council. The committee was asked to assess the following: (1) the overall goals, strategy, and approach for the ESE Applications Program, (2) the planning and prioritization process, operations concept, expected program results or deliverables, and performance measures, and (3) how well the approach outlined in the plan will serve to advance NASA’s stated goals and objectives for the ESE Applications Program. Chapter II of the committee’s report summarizes its general findings and recommendations. Chapter III provides a more detailed discussion of the committee’s recommendations regarding the individual sections of the Applications Plan. Finally, the committee’s conclusions are summarized in Chapter IV. The ESE Applications Plan The Applications Plan consists of a preface; four main sections that address (1) program vision, missions, and goals as well as context with respect to the broader ESE program, (2) program planning strategy, which includes a discussion of the priorities for selection of candidate applications, (3) program operations, which includes aspects of program management and implementation, and (4) performance evaluation measures; and a short summary and several appendices. In briefings to the committee, NASA representatives elaborated on the material that appears in the Applications Plan and noted that NASA’s applications strategy has evolved and is expected to continue to evolve over time. In briefings to the committee, Office of Management and Budget and NASA officials noted that in the 1990s accelerating the U.S. commercial remote sensing industry was a NASA priority, and later in the period the ESE Applications Program emphasized pilot projects and demonstrations at the state and local level. The efforts, which were often funded via grants to state, local, tribal, and university entities, focused on building government-to-citizen relationships. The current NASA applications strategy adopts a modified approach that adds an emphasis on national (as opposed to local) “benchmark” applications that utilize NASA partnerships with other federal agencies (“government-to-government-to-citizen relationships”). According to NASA officials, this modified strategy will capitalize on NASA systems engineering expertise and NASA data and scientific capability to help NASA’s federal partners develop decision support tools6 for a 5 Throughout this report, the committee uses “the Applications Plan” to refer to the NASA document and “the NASA applications strategy” to refer to the suite of approaches and ideas on which the ESE Applications Program is founded and according to which it will be executed. 6 In briefing the committee, NASA officials defined decision support tools as “interactive, computer-based systems designed to help people and organizations retrieve, summarize, and analyze data and information and conduct predictive analysis on scenarios that enable enhanced capacity to make better decisions.”
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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan variety of specific applications. NASA refers to the former strategies as the “heritage program” and the current, augmented approach as the “go forward” strategy. (See Appendix B.) NASA described to the committee a set of key strategic principles on which the ESE Applications Program will be founded in the future.7 They are as follows: Extend the use of NASA/ESE climate, weather, and natural hazards research for the social and economic benefit of the nation. Focus on application areas of demonstrated national significance. Define specific applications through joint projects with users. Provide a systems engineering role for the user community—data and measurements, modeling, and decision support. Rely on users to supply the operational environment and operational support. The Applications Plan describes a process whereby candidate applications are selected based on their potential to address national needs, after which the candidate areas are prioritized on the basis of the following eight criteria, listed in descending order of importance: Socio-economic value, Application feasibility, Response to executive or legislative branch direction, Appropriateness for NASA, Opportunity for collaborative partnership, Scientific and technological readiness, Program balance, and Cost and budget context. The January 2002 draft of the Applications Plan includes an appendix that lists five representative examples of applications topics and federal agency partners—wild fire management with the U.S. Forest Service, coastal beach mapping with NOAA, agriculture crop greenness and production assessment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hurricane track prediction with NOAA, and aviation safety through synthetic vision systems with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In briefing the committee NASA indicated that this list has been expanded to the following set of 12 areas of national priority for initial emphasis in the program:8 Enhanced weather prediction for energy forecasting, Weather and climate prediction for agricultural competitiveness, Carbon sequestration assessment for carbon management, Digital atmosphere and terrain visualization for aviation transportation safety, Early-warning systems for air and water quality for homeland security, 7 Presentation by Edward Sheffner, NASA, on August 1, 2002. 8 Preprint of article to appear in the August 2002 issue of Earth Observation Magazine (EOM), “Science and Society,” by R.Birk and C.Hutchinson.
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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan Environmental indicators for community growth management, Integrated hurricane and flooding prediction for community disaster preparedness, Early-warning systems for vector-borne infectious diseases for public health, Environmental indicators for coastal management, Environmental models for biological invasive species, Water-cycle assessments for water management and conservation, and Regional, national, and international atmospheric measurements and predictions for air quality management. NASA officials told the committee that the initial applications areas have been selected, partners have been identified, and initial roadmaps or program plans have been prepared. They reported that implementation approaches are being formulated and that the next steps will be to prioritize the selected areas and establish formal teaming arrangements with partners. The Applications Plan concludes with a discussion of plans for program evaluation in compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act, and it lists a set of “inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impacts” by which NASA will judge success. In briefing the committee NASA officials also described the following program deliverables: Verification and validation reports on benchmark applications approaches, Documented prototypes and guidelines (procedures) that can facilitate potential operational implementation, Analyses and assessments regarding potential for commercial implementation, and Guidance for the next generation of research and development. In the next chapters of this report, the committee presents its assessment of the NASA applications strategy, based on a review of the Applications Plan and statements by NASA officials that elaborated upon or modified the plan. Based on committee discussions with officials from NASA and a sampling of partner agencies, the report also offers suggestions and recommendations for ways to strengthen the Applications Plan.
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