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Portals to The Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers
STScI, Chandra, and SSC/IPAC on the other hand, funded at several tens of millions of dollars per year, set the standards for the provision of services to the community.4 Clearly the research community has come to rely on the service these facilities provide. Also, as mentioned elsewhere in this report, the full complement of services and the integration of the continuum of expertise from flight operators, engineers, programmers, researchers, EPO specialists, and a variety of support personnel multiply the value of the space observatory and the scientific results that can be achieved beyond what could be achieved with a linear extrapolation of the funding.
Owing to the lack of models of intermediate size ($20 million to $30 million), the committee could not assess the potential efficacy of centers in this case. Where such centers would fall on the curve of funding versus service remains to be explored. However, one can posit that there must be a threshold level of service (and hence funding) below which the synergistic effects of the full complement of talent, activities, and services—and hence the overall value to the science and the nation—drop, most likely, rapidly.
After considering various models for NASA astronomy science centers and the factors affecting their size and utility to the community, the committee finds that CXC, STScI, and the science center complexes in Pasadena, California (JPL-Caltech) and Greenbelt, Maryland (GSFC) contain a number of activities that could (in principle, and often in practice) grow with respect to both personnel and physical plant resources. These science centers should become the natural hosts for continuing support of ongoing research that utilizes NASA’s data resources after individual mission centers have outlived their charters. They make up an effective infrastructure that could serve both existing and planned missions well. The committee recognizes, however, that missions such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder, Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, Space Interferometry Mission, and Constellation-X, if they are developed, might need more capabilities, expertise, and user support services than are provided by these four science center complexes and might even justify additional NASA astronomy science centers in the future.
Finding: Embedding guest observer facilities in existing science centers such as the High EnergyAstrophysics Science Archive Research Center provides for efficient user support, especially whenthe scope of a space mission does not warrant a separate science center.
Finding: The Chandra X-ray Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the High EnergyAstrophysics Science Archive Research Center, and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Centerhave sufficient scientific and programmatic expertise to manage NASA’s current science centerresponsibilities after the active phases of space astronomy missions are completed.
Finding: The ability of the Chandra X-ray Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the HighEnergy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center, and the Infrared Processing and AnalysisCenter to provide the appropriate level of support to the scientific community depends criticallyon the extent to which they can attract, retain, and effectively deploy individuals with the mix ofresearch and engineering skills necessary to maintain continuity of service.
The committee did not obtain budget data for archive centers such as HEASARC and IPAC because they were not included in the statement of task for the study. However, the committee considered the archival centers in its deliberations, and the committee chair conducted site visits of HEASARC and IPAC.