1
Introduction and Background

NASA’s current space and Earth science programs are the result of a strategic planning process that has been refined over many years. Scientific and programmatic priorities, in most cases, are developed by expert committees under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC), reported on in NRC studies, and translated by NASA into planning documents such as research strategies and then into integrated implementation plans. In their most comprehensive form, these NRC studies have striven to identify the potentially most revolutionary science activities that should be undertaken within a decade.a Through this process explicit priorities are set, and numerous missions and concepts are eliminated if the expert committees determine that they do not meet the standard for producing potentially transformational science and intellectual understanding. NASA’s current science program exists to transform our understanding of our planet and the cosmos.

As part of its efforts to implement its new exploration goals established in early 2004, NASA has embarked on a strategic planning activity. As noted in the Preface, the strategic planning has recently been accelerated. This acceleration has also affected the NRC review requested by Congress and NASA of the science roadmaps developed under NASA auspices. NASA sought a quick reply in order to integrate the NRC’s comments into its current planning and budget process. The roadmaps reviewed by the NRC were as follows:

  • Robotic and Human Exploration of Mars,1

  • Solar System Exploration,2

  • Search for Earth-like Planets,3

  • Universe Exploration,4

  • Earth Science and Applications from Space,5 and

  • Sun-Solar System Connection.6

The panel’s review of these six roadmaps was informed by the previous NRC decadal studies in the relevant science areas as well as more recent updates to those studies.b The fundamental premises of this review were drawn from the guiding principles stated in the February 2005 NRC report Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. These guiding principles are as follows:

a  

The NRC decadal survey process started in the field of astronomy and astrophysics in 1964. The most recent decadal survey in this area produced the report Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001. The first decadal surveys in the fields of solar system exploration and solar and space physics were released in 2002: New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy and The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, respectively (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003). A decadal survey in Earth sciences is currently under way and is scheduled for completion in 2006.

b  

See, for instance, National Research Council, Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004.



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Review of Goals and Plans for NASA’s Space and Earth Sciences 1 Introduction and Background NASA’s current space and Earth science programs are the result of a strategic planning process that has been refined over many years. Scientific and programmatic priorities, in most cases, are developed by expert committees under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC), reported on in NRC studies, and translated by NASA into planning documents such as research strategies and then into integrated implementation plans. In their most comprehensive form, these NRC studies have striven to identify the potentially most revolutionary science activities that should be undertaken within a decade.a Through this process explicit priorities are set, and numerous missions and concepts are eliminated if the expert committees determine that they do not meet the standard for producing potentially transformational science and intellectual understanding. NASA’s current science program exists to transform our understanding of our planet and the cosmos. As part of its efforts to implement its new exploration goals established in early 2004, NASA has embarked on a strategic planning activity. As noted in the Preface, the strategic planning has recently been accelerated. This acceleration has also affected the NRC review requested by Congress and NASA of the science roadmaps developed under NASA auspices. NASA sought a quick reply in order to integrate the NRC’s comments into its current planning and budget process. The roadmaps reviewed by the NRC were as follows: Robotic and Human Exploration of Mars,1 Solar System Exploration,2 Search for Earth-like Planets,3 Universe Exploration,4 Earth Science and Applications from Space,5 and Sun-Solar System Connection.6 The panel’s review of these six roadmaps was informed by the previous NRC decadal studies in the relevant science areas as well as more recent updates to those studies.b The fundamental premises of this review were drawn from the guiding principles stated in the February 2005 NRC report Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. These guiding principles are as follows: a   The NRC decadal survey process started in the field of astronomy and astrophysics in 1964. The most recent decadal survey in this area produced the report Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001. The first decadal surveys in the fields of solar system exploration and solar and space physics were released in 2002: New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy and The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, respectively (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003). A decadal survey in Earth sciences is currently under way and is scheduled for completion in 2006. b   See, for instance, National Research Council, Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004.

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Review of Goals and Plans for NASA’s Space and Earth Sciences Exploration is a key step in the search for fundamental and systematic understanding of the universe around us. Exploration done properly is a form of science. Both robotic spacecraft and human spaceflight should be used to fulfill scientific roles in NASA’s mission to explore. When, where, and how they are used should depend on what best serves to advance intellectual understanding of the cosmos and our place in it and to lay the technical and cultural foundations for a space-faring civilization. Robotic exploration of space has produced and will continue to provide paradigm-altering discoveries; human spaceflight, although fraught with challenges, now presents a clear opportunity to change our sense of our place in the universe. The targets for exploration should include the Earth where we live, the objects of the solar system where humans may be able to visit, the broader solar system including the Sun, and the vast universe beyond. The targets should be those that have the greatest opportunity to advance our understanding of how the universe works, who we are, where we came from, and what our ultimate destiny is. Preparation for long-duration human exploration missions should include research to resolve fundamental engineering and science challenges. More than simply development problems, those challenges are multifaceted and will require fundamental discoveries enabled by crosscutting research that spans traditional discipline boundaries. In conducting the review, the panel benefited greatly from the guidance of its parent board, the Space Studies Board, as well as from inputs from the standing committees of the Space Studies Board.c The panel was briefed in detail on each of the roadmaps by one of the co-chairs of the NASA committees that developed the roadmaps. Each of the six roadmaps was evaluated using as guidance the charge for this task described in the Preface. Because of the overlapping issues in several roadmaps (such as those involving, for example, the origins of the universe and the search for Earth-like planets, both of which utilize some of the same instruments), some crosscutting issues affecting those roadmaps are noted in the relevant chapters. In Chapter 7, the panel identifies some overarching issues for all of NASA space and Earth science and articulates general principles that the panel believes merit application as NASA proceeds with its strategic planning process to formulate the total exploration program. In the chapters that follow, the panel has attempted to note where important gaps exist in the science proposed in the roadmaps. The panel is well aware that, collectively, the projects already proposed in the roadmaps likely exceed NASA resources. Nevertheless, the panel discusses areas of science that it believes should compete, along with the areas cited in the roadmaps, for a place in the integrated mission planning. Clearly, the various areas will have to be prioritized in NASA’s integrated planning process. In Chapter 7 the panel discusses criteria for establishing priorities. The panel is also aware that NASA does not currently plan to revise or update the roadmaps reviewed here. Rather, it is expected that NASA will use the roadmaps to inform its development of an integrated research strategy. However, to avoid constant repetition of these points, the panel has structured much of its advice in the following chapters to suggest how the individual roadmaps could be improved. There was considerable variation in the content, structure, and scope of the individual roadmaps, which is reflected in the organization of the advice provided in the report chapters. It is the panel’s intent and expectation that NASA will take this advice into consideration as it determines how the roadmaps will be used, either individually or collectively, during the development of a research strategy. Finally, the panel notes that it recognized that NASA’s roadmapping effort, performed simultaneously across multiple fields for integration in an overall strategy, was in many ways a trial run c   The standing committees are the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, the Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life, and the Committee on Earth Studies.

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Review of Goals and Plans for NASA’s Space and Earth Sciences for future roadmapping activities, and the panel urges future roadmap committees to better incorporate existing NRC guidance into their plans. REFERENCES 1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. Robotic and Human Exploration of Mars. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/mars/mars_roadmap.pdf>. 2. NASA, Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. SRM 3—The Solar System Exploration Strategic Roadmap. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/solar/solar_roadmap.pdf>. 3. NASA, Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. The Search for Earth-like Planets. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/earthlike/earthlike_roadmap.pdf>. 4. NASA, Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. Universe Exploration: From the Big Bang to Life. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/universe/universe_roadmap.pdf>. 5. NASA, Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. Exploring Our Planet for the Benefit of Society: NASA Earth Science and Applications from Space Strategic Roadmap. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/earth/earth_roadmap.pdf>. 6. NASA, Advanced Planning and Integration Office. 2005. Sun-Solar System Connection. NASA, Washington, D.C. Available at <www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/pdf/sun/sun_roadmap.pdf>.