The Space Studies Board is a unit of the NRC’s Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (DEPS), and it reports to the division for oversight. DEPS is one of six major program units of the NRC through which the institution conducts its operations on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Within DEPS there are a total of 14 boards that cover a broad range of physical science and engineering disciplines and mission areas.
Members of the DEPS Committee on Engineering and Physical Sciences provide advice on Board membership and advise on proposed new projects to be undertaken by the Board or its committees. Every 3 years the DEPS Committee also reviews the overall operations of each of its boards, with the most recent review of the SSB having been conducted in September 2004.
The Board ordinarily meets three times per year to review the activities of its committees and to be briefed on and discuss major space policy issues. An internal executive committee composed of approximately 7 at-large members of the Board meets at least once a year and may convene via conference call at other times to plan for SSB activities and to advise the chair between meetings. All projects proposed to be conducted by ad hoc study committees must first be reviewed and approved by the Board or its executive committee, and the Board monitors the progress of the projects throughout the course of the studies.
The Board has responsibility for scientific planning and oversight in the basic subdisciplines of space research. This responsibility is discharged through a structure of discipline-oriented standing committees. The standard vehicle for providing long-term research guidance is the decadal survey which is conducted by an ad hoc committee. In addition, other ad hoc committees periodically prepare formal assessment reports that examine progress in their disciplines in comparison with published NRC advice. From time to time, in response to a sponsor or Board request or to circumstances requiring a prompt and focused comment, an ad hoc committee may be formed to prepare a short, or “letter,” report. Ad hoc committees may also be called on by the Board to prepare specialized material for use by either the Board or other interdisciplinary committees.
Although the emphasis traditionally has been on discipline planning and evaluation, the Board also recognizes a need for crosscutting technical and policy studies. To accomplish these objectives, the Board creates ad hoc committees that resemble standing committees in structure and operation, except that they have predefined lifetimes, typically 1 to 3 years, and more narrowly bounded charters. The Board also organizes topical workshops and exercises the NRC’s convening function in other special activities.
The Board serves as the U.S. National Committee for ICSU’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), an international, multidisciplinary forum for exchanging space science research. Board members may individually participate in COSPAR scientific sessions to present their research or, occasionally, to present the results of an SSB report to the international community.
The Board also has a regular practice of exchanging observers with the European Space Science Committee (ESSC), an entity of the European Science Foundation, and on occasion conducts informal information exchange sessions with national entities such as Japan and China within COSPAR scientific assemblies.
The organization of the SSB in 2005 is illustrated in Figure 1.1. Taken together, the Board and its committees generally hold as many as 40 meetings during the year.