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7 Findings and Recommendations FIGURE 7.1 Idealized transition pathway summarizing the issues addressed and indicating the solutions recommended in this report.
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BOX 7.1 Visualizing the Pathways for Transition NASA-NOAA transitions are challenging because they must cross valleys of death and lost opportunities, a journey achieved by following a transition pathway that connects one side to the other (see Figure 7.1 in this chapter). To cross the valleys, each pathway must traverse bridges. Each bridge is composed of building blocks, which include a solid research foundation, laboratories, equipment, computers, algorithms, information technologies, and other necessary infrastructure to support the transition pathway. A weakness in any building block produces a rickety bridge and thus a poor pathway. The fundamental flaw in the present transition system is that NASA and NOAA own the “land at the valley edges,” but nobody systematically designs, builds, and maintains the bridges. As a result, bridges are constructed ad hoc, and their underlying building blocks are of varying quality. The proposed solution is an Interagency Transition Office (ITO) that will develop a solid transition architecture that spans the entire pathway, connecting NASA with NOAA and then NOAA to the user community. The ITO would plan and coordinate the design of consistently reliable bridges built upon robust building blocks, but NASA and NOAA would retain responsibility for implementing the bridges and operating the pathways that cross them. As discussed in earlier chapters, advances in the remote sensing of Earth’s environment from space hold promise for realizing the vision of an Earth Information System. This system would consist of a four-dimensional gridded set of quantitative, geo-referenced digital data that describe the Earth system. These data would be increasingly valuable to a host of users in the public and private sectors and the academic community. Weather and climate services will benefit greatly from these advances, but it is necessary to improve the process of transitioning research results into operations in order to more quickly realize the return to society from the research investment. This chapter presents an overarching recommendation for an interagency planning and collaboration mechanism and follows up with supporting recommendations for more detailed program and mission design aspects to streamline and support the transition process. See Figure 7.1, which summarizes the issues and recommendations presented in this report, and Box 7.1, which describes how each of the key concepts in the report is related to the image of transition pathways. INTERAGENCY TRANSITION OFFICE Finding: As discussed in previous chapters, the current transition pathways for NASA research to NOAA operations include successful examples that represent strong models for other transition activities. In general, however, transitions have been ad hoc and are often complex and unstructured, at times working well and at other times not working as well as they could or even breaking down entirely. No
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organizational mechanism is available to ensure that the transition process in general is efficient and effective and that an overarching architecture for each transition is in place. The committee finds that more effective interagency planning, coordination, and collaboration are key to the rapid and effective transition of environmental measurements from research to operations. Further, a structured, consistent, and well-defined organizational approach to transitioning activities is needed. Recommendation 1: A strong and effective Interagency Transition Office for the planning and coordination of activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in support of transitioning research to operations should be established by and should report to the highest levels of NASA and NOAA. The ITO should have broad responsibility (not specifically related to sensor capability) for ensuring that appropriate research is efficiently and effectively transitioned to operational uses. However, the ITO itself should not implement the transitioning activities. The implementation should be carried out by appropriate NASA or NOAA entities (such as the NPOESS Integrated Program Office, with its current charter for the acquisition of polar operational satellite systems) or by their partners in the academic community and private sector. The ITO is intended to support and simplify transitions by augmenting, enabling, and leveraging the existing infrastructure within NASA and NOAA rather than by introducing duplicative capability or bureaucracy.1 The products of the planning and coordination should include a formal evaluation of every new and improved sensor capability and mission. The evaluation should include an assessment of existing and potential users and uses of the new capability. The strategic plan for each mission should provide for flexibility in the mission as the scientific and technological capabilities evolve, as well as identify the financial and human resources necessary to carry out the plan. The ITO should define measures of transition effectiveness and systematically monitor the progress of NASA and NOAA in implementing the agreed-upon 1 The committee intends that the ITO be a flexible organization so that other agencies or foreign partners could join the process for specific missions by invitation from NASA and NOAA. The benefits of the ITO (described in Chapter 6, in the section entitled “The Recommended Approach: Establish an Interagency Transition Office”) are still appropriate in any case, perhaps even more so when a partnership extends beyond NASA and NOAA.
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transitions. It should also provide a forum for identifying weaknesses and other issues in the transitioning process and present candidate solutions for resolution to the highest levels of authority required at NASA and NOAA. The ITO should have an independent, high-level advisory council consisting of representatives from the operational and research communities as well as from the public and private sectors. It should also serve as a forum for regular discussions between the leaders of the research and operational organizations. An executive board, envisioned by the committee as including the NASA and NOAA administrators and the President’s Science Advisor, at a minimum, should provide high-level oversight and review of the ITO. NASA and NOAA should consider including as executive board members representatives at an equivalent level from DOD (for example, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology) and from other agencies when that would be appropriate to the mission of the ITO. Implementation of the following recommendations is needed in order to support the mission of the proposed Interagency Transition Office. However, these recommendations are not specifically tied to the establishment of the ITO. They stand on their own merit and would be necessary in order to strengthen any transitioning mechanism or pathway. IMPROVING COMMUNICATION AND COORDINATION Finding: There has been no overarching formal mechanism for developing NOAA’s operational requirements based on user needs, although the committee is aware of efforts in NOAA toward the development of such a mechanism and a formal strategic plan. Operational user needs and requirements are neither communicated well to NASA nor formally used by NASA in its priority-setting process. Recommendation 2: NOAA and NASA should improve and formalize the process of developing and communicating operational requirements and priorities. 2.1 NOAA should continuously evaluate and define operational user needs and formally communicate them to NASA on a regular basis. 2.2 NASA should formally consider the requirements of NOAA and other operational agencies in establishing its priorities (the “pull” side of the transition process). NASA should establish appropriate programs and budgets as needed to respond to selected NOAA requirements.
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THE EVALUATION OF MISSIONS FOR POTENTIAL TRANSITION OPPORTUNITIES AND THE NEED FOR TRANSITION PLANS Finding: A major part of NASA’s mission is, appropriately, to do exploratory Earth science research for which there are no immediate operational needs or requirements, but for which a large potential benefit to scientific understanding and eventually to operations might occur if a mission is successful. The research and operational communities need to be more alert to new and unexpected applications of NASA’s exploratory research and establish a process of assistance for discovering these applications. There is no formal NOAA process for identifying requirements for which NASA research would be beneficial. A formal process for evaluating all NASA missions for potential operational applications would provide a solid foundation for developing effective plans for transitioning activities. There is a need for transition plans, developed jointly by the research and operational community for all appropriate NASA missions (as determined by the mission evaluation process). Recommendation 3: All NASA Earth science satellite missions should be formally evaluated in the early stages of the mission planning process for potential applications to operations in the short, medium, or long term, and resources should be planned for and secured to support appropriate mission transition activities. The evaluation process should include engaging in dialogue with the research and operational communities and obtaining input from possible users of the observations. For appropriate missions, as determined by the assessment, a flexible plan or architecture for a seamless transition pathway, including the necessary financial and human resources, should be developed, regularly reviewed, and updated as necessary. It is important to note that a transition plan may encompass an entire mission or sensor, or it may be limited to smaller mission elements. For example, a NASA research mission could develop a new calibration approach, algorithm, data-archiving system, component technology, or other mission element that has NOAA operational value. It is an appropriate role of the ITO to designate such a NASA mission as a transition candidate—in such cases the activities to be transitioned would be limited to the relevant elements of the total mission. For a mission that is identified as having significant potential for providing data useful to operations, the following activities should be supported: 3.1 NASA and NOAA should work together to strengthen the planning, coordination, and management components of the mission. Teams of people with appropriate research and operational expertise should be
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assigned to the mission. A culture fostering aggressive and challenging approaches, risk taking, acceptance of outside ideas and technologies, flexibility, and a “can-do” attitude should be encouraged. 3.2 Adequate resources should be provided in order to support all aspects of the transitioning activities, as determined by the assessment and plans. Consideration should be given to establishing guidelines and mechanisms for encouraging transition efforts. For example, a small fraction (e.g., 5 to 10 percent) of each sensor or mission project budget might be allocated to transition activities. Principal investigators might be asked to submit plans or concepts for transitional activities, with significant points being allotted in scoring this aspect of the proposals. 3.3 Research into how to use new types of observations should be supported well in advance of the launch of the research or operational mission that acquires the observations. In parallel with the acquisition program, this research should include developing and testing algorithms to convert sensor data to environmental products (including environmental data records) and data-assimilation methods, as appropriate to the mission. The research may be carried out in a variety of institutions, including universities, national laboratories, cooperative institutes, and test bed facilities. The institutional mechanism(s) to conduct the research should be identified early in the mission. 3.4 Each research mission should have a comprehensive data-management plan. The plan should include the identification of potential users and approaches for processing the data, converting the raw data to information, creating metadata, distributing data and information to users in real time, and archiving and the subsequent accessing of data by users. 3.5 NASA and NOAA, through the ITO as defined in Recommendation 1, should develop a plan to include the use of NPOESS and GOES-R sensor data by the appropriate government agencies. A collaborative arrangement and at least one demonstration/pilot or benchmark project should be developed with each primary user agency (e.g., the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency) using NPOESS and GOES-R products. 3.6 Each research mission should have an associated education and training plan. This plan should be addressed to the operational, research, and academic communities, including students. It could include, for example, scientific visitor exchange programs, support for collaborative research, workshops, and a plan for the timely flow of research data to operational and academic institutions.
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3.7 The evaluation process and resulting transition plans should consider potential roles in the research-to-operations transition process for the academic community (including principal-investigator-led projects) and the private sector, both of which have relevant capabilities and knowledge not available within NASA and NOAA. BUILDING A FLEXIBLE OPERATIONAL SATELLITE SYSTEM THAT CAN ADJUST MORE QUICKLY TO NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGIES Finding: The current operational satellite system is inflexible and slow to adjust to opportunities presented by new scientific and technological advances. A more flexible system, including closer connections between the operational and research communities and the use of both research and operational data by both communities, would be beneficial. While important differences and sometimes conflicts between research and operations exist, there are often synergies between the two that can be better exploited. Research missions can provide data that are useful for operations, even if only for a limited time. The experience gained in real time from the use of research observations is invaluable and can lead to definition and justification of future operational missions. The operational users of research observations can provide very useful information back to the researchers on the quality of the observations. Recommendation 4: NASA and NOAA should jointly work toward and should budget for an adaptive and flexible operational system in order to support the rapid infusion of new satellite observational technologies, the validation of new capabilities, and the implementation of new operational applications. 4.1 Operational satellite programs should provide for the capability of validating advanced instruments in space and of cross-calibrating them with existing instruments, in parallel to the operational mission, by the most efficient means possible (e.g., by reserving approximately 25 percent of the payload power, volume, and mass capability; through “bridge” missions; and so on). 4.2 To the extent possible, observations from research missions should be provided in real time or near real time to researchers and potential users. Operational centers or associated test beds should use and evaluate the research observations in developing their products and should provide feedback to researchers. Test beds such as the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation and the Joint Hurricane Testbed should be supported as a way to bridge the final steps in the gap between research and operations. The primary mission of such test beds should not be to conduct basic
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research or operations, but rather to develop and test new real-time modeling and data-assimilation systems to use the new observations. The test beds should include participation by the academic research community and should be quasi-independent from the operational agencies. 4.3 Senior personnel responsible for transition activities should be located at major operational centers of NOAA and at the major research segments of NASA. In summary, to cross the valleys of death and lost opportunities successfully, a means of bringing NASA and NOAA together—as partners—to design and navigate the transition pathways between research and operations must be created. The Interagency Transition Office plan has the necessary underpinnings to span these valleys and facilitate smooth transitions from research to operations and then to end users.
Representative terms from entire chapter: