Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Introduction

This report by the Committee to Review the NASA Earth Science Enterprise Strategic Plan responds to a request from the NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science for a review of the most recent draft of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) Strategy, Understanding and Protecting Our Home Planet (hereinafter referred to as "the ESE draft document").1 In writing its report, the committee focused on the five questions posed in the letter of request to the National Research Council's Space Studies Board. The committee believes that the ESE final strategy document must address each of the five questions in a comprehensive and robust manner, in order to both guide the ESE program and communicate its exciting scope and national importance to many crucial audiences. The committee's report focuses primarily on aspects of the ESE draft document that should be improved to better communicate the strengths of and plans for the ESE program.

Principal Findings and Recommendations

Below, the committee summarizes its principal findings and recommendations in connection with each of the five questions. Additional details are included in the body of the report.

1. Does the ESE draft document clearly and compellingly convey the direction of the Enterprise?

The ESE draft document does not clearly and compellingly articulate the Earth Science Enterprise's rationale, scope, relationships, and programmatic approaches. To transform the ESE draft document and the strategy that it embodies into a coherent and effective plan, the committee recommends that the draft document be revised to address the following issues:

  • Absence of an obvious logical structure, which makes the draft document difficult to read and to interpret.

  • Inconsistent levels of detail and a lack of references to other relevant documents.

  • Missing elements of a strategic plan, including information on schedules, milestones, and evaluation criteria and approaches. In particular, the ESE draft document should discuss the methodology and the criteria that will be used in establishing relative program priorities.

1  

NASA, 2003, Understanding and Protecting Our Home Planet: Earth Science Enterprise Strategy, draft dated April 14, 2003.



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Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Introduction This report by the Committee to Review the NASA Earth Science Enterprise Strategic Plan responds to a request from the NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science for a review of the most recent draft of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) Strategy, Understanding and Protecting Our Home Planet (hereinafter referred to as "the ESE draft document").1 In writing its report, the committee focused on the five questions posed in the letter of request to the National Research Council's Space Studies Board. The committee believes that the ESE final strategy document must address each of the five questions in a comprehensive and robust manner, in order to both guide the ESE program and communicate its exciting scope and national importance to many crucial audiences. The committee's report focuses primarily on aspects of the ESE draft document that should be improved to better communicate the strengths of and plans for the ESE program. Principal Findings and Recommendations Below, the committee summarizes its principal findings and recommendations in connection with each of the five questions. Additional details are included in the body of the report. 1. Does the ESE draft document clearly and compellingly convey the direction of the Enterprise? The ESE draft document does not clearly and compellingly articulate the Earth Science Enterprise's rationale, scope, relationships, and programmatic approaches. To transform the ESE draft document and the strategy that it embodies into a coherent and effective plan, the committee recommends that the draft document be revised to address the following issues: Absence of an obvious logical structure, which makes the draft document difficult to read and to interpret. Inconsistent levels of detail and a lack of references to other relevant documents. Missing elements of a strategic plan, including information on schedules, milestones, and evaluation criteria and approaches. In particular, the ESE draft document should discuss the methodology and the criteria that will be used in establishing relative program priorities. 1   NASA, 2003, Understanding and Protecting Our Home Planet: Earth Science Enterprise Strategy, draft dated April 14, 2003.

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Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy It is essential that the ESE outcomes projected in the six science focus areas2 be realistic and attainable within the resources and time specified, and that they be desirable and practical for partner agencies. The committee recommends that ESE carefully evaluate each projected outcome for practicality prior to including it in future versions of the draft document. In particular, ESE should evaluate the realizability of its "predictive capabilities enabled by an Earth system modeling capability in 2025." ESE should more clearly delineate the partnerships with other federal agencies that are needed to realize relevant national priorities. The committee is concerned that the ESE draft document, as submitted, does not clearly state the relevance of NASA's contributions to those of other agencies in light of broader national goals. 2. Does it effectively respond to the NASA Strategic Plan? The ESE draft document responds effectively to the vision, mission, and goals articulated in the overall NASA Strategic Plan,3 but not to that plan's implementing strategies. The NASA Strategic Plan links the objectives of each NASA enterprise to NASA's overall goals. This logical structure is not evident in the ESE draft document. To demonstrate the alignment of the ESE program with the NASA Strategic Plan, the committee recommends that the ESE draft document be revised so that it (1) states explicitly the NASA goals to which ESE contributes and (2) explains how the programs of the ESE contribute to NASA's objectives and goals. The committee notes ESE's contribution to the goals under NASA's mission "to inspire the next generation of explorers": ESE's record in training the next generation of researchers is strong and deserves credit. There are, however, no examples of any such accomplishments in the draft document's short section "Earth Science Education," which is also incomplete because it focuses primarily on outreach and K-12 education. The committee recommends that the ESE draft document describe a vision for a strong partnership between NASA and universities with regard to long-term education needs and the intellectual development of the next generation of Earth system scientists. 3. Does it describe an endeavor that stands as an important scientific program and makes needed contributions to broader national priorities? The committee found the range of ESE activities outlined in the draft document to be both potentially exciting and critically necessary for achieving many national and international imperatives. However, the draft document does not make any attempt to persuade the reader that the objectives under ESE's six science focus areas can be achieved given existing and expected knowledge and resources. The draft document does not provide evidence that the applications goals of the specific science focus areas can be realized, nor does it set forth the criteria and processes by which the identified objectives were determined. It lacks descriptions of ESE's approach to setting priorities, assessing progress, and developing and incorporating technology. 2   As stated at line 427 of the ESE draft document, the six science focus areas are climate variability, change, and prediction; atmospheric composition; ecosystems and carbon cycle; water and energy cycle; weather; and Earth surface and interior. 3   NASA, 2003, National Aeronautics and Space Administration 2003 Strategic Plan, Report NP-2003-01-298-HQ. Available online at <http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/1968main_strategi.pdf>.

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Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy The draft document rationalizes the ESE program almost entirely on the basis of its contributions to applications. The committee finds that the ESE draft document would be improved by an increased emphasis on basic science; inadequate focus on a basic understanding of Earth system science may prove to be a crucial impediment for the timely development of future applications. The committee recommends that the ESE draft document clearly describe the respective roles of applied and basic science and the appropriate balance between the two. The NASA applications strategy should emphasize one of the agency's strengths, which is the provision of objective, scientifically derived environmental information to all parties, inside or outside governments, in a neutral, nonpolitical mode. Although the ESE draft document (lines 814-854) addresses the importance of existing external partnerships, it does not describe how the new partnerships required to achieve the stated objectives will be established. In addition, the ESE draft document does not detail how existing partnerships will be exploited. The committee recommends that this strategic element be added to the ESE draft document in the section on external partnerships (lines 814-854) and that the text in this section be revised accordingly. The ESE Earth science program is far more exciting, and its applications far more important and far ranging, than is conveyed in the draft document. The committee believes that development of the programs presented in the ESE draft document would have benefited from a broader engagement of the external Earth science community. Prior to the development of ESE's 2006 Strategy, the committee recommends that ESE take new approaches to engaging the Earth science community, modeled perhaps on the outreach and roadmap efforts made by the Office of Space Science in developing its own strategy. 4. Does it provide appropriate attention to interdisciplinary aspects, integration of technology development, and overall scientific balance? Earth system science is a complex, highly integrated activity requiring critical interaction among the many agencies and organizations responsible for performing particular elements of the scientific research. ESE recognizes this and has indicated clearly that the Earth "systems" science problem requires a "systems" solution. The committee is concerned that ESE's ability to achieve broad Earth science objectives may be compromised because no single organization is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the many partners. In light of this concern the committee recommends that ESE describe how it will take the steps necessary to ensure that all important scientific components are identified, and that NASA work with other relevant agencies to ensure that the specific roles of partner organizations are defined and activities properly coordinated. The draft document uses an interdisciplinary Earth system science template for its proposed program, but this approach has several deficiencies. The committee recommends that the ESE draft document be revised to address the following issues: The draft document does not explain the ESE strategy for integration of technology and how technology developments will be strategically coupled to ESE proposed missions. The draft document does not give sufficient attention to components of the Earth system, in particular, anthropogenic forcings, which dominate change.

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Assessment of NASA's Draft 2003 Earth Science Enterprise Strategy The "Earth surface and interior" science focus area is not well integrated with the other five science focus areas. There is little discussion of ESE's strategy for transforming mission data into scientific information, specifically how space-derived data will be made available for use in laboratory investigations, field programs, theory, and data analysis. 5. What recommendations from recent NRC reports, if any, should be considered in revising the draft? As detailed in the body of the report, several NRC reports should be consulted in revising the ESE draft document. In addition, the committee finds that in general the draft document does not provide sufficient context through references to either subsidiary or superseding ESE documents and plans. The committee recommends that the ESE revised document summarize the context and constraints established by the NASA Strategic Plan and that it provide specific references to existing or developing subsidiary ESE documents. ESE assured the committee that these documents exist but did not make them available to the committee. In general, the committee strongly believes that the ESE draft document provided to the committee should be viewed as an early draft that is deficient in many respects. It is hoped that, with substantial revisions as recommended, a future more effective ESE strategy document will result.