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Portals to The Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers B Statement of Task Background NASA supports an array of astronomy centers, which are intended to maximize the scientific output and productivity of space astronomy missions by facilitating the scientific community’s access to and use of space observatories. Most centers provide a number of supporting roles, which often include some of the following: Reviewing observing time or archival data use proposals, Scheduling observing time allocations and campaigns, Operating the observatory, Monitoring and managing scientific instrument and/or spacecraft systems performance, Defining and developing analysis software, Performing data processing, Issuing grants, Providing technical assistance for guest observers, Developing and managing data archives, Facilitating communications between the research community and NASA on behalf of specific space missions, and Performing public affairs, outreach, and education activities. The first such center, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), was put in place in response to the SSB report Institutional Arrangements for the Space Telescope (NAS, 1976). Other particularly relevant NRC reports that are likely to have a bearing on the study include Institutional Arrangements for the Space Telescope: A Mid-Term Review (NRC, 1985) and Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium: An Overview (NRC, 2002). In addition to STScI, current centers include the Chandra X-ray Center, Michelson Science Center, RXTE Guest Observer Facility, Spitzer Science Center, and XMM–Newton Guest Observer Facility. Other centers provided science support for the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, and International Ultraviolet Explorer when they were operating.
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Portals to The Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers Current centers span a significant range of sizes, from the STScI, which has an annual budget of about $98 million and about 450 staff members, to smaller efforts with budgets ~$10 million and no more than about 20 staff members. Statement of task The study will include the following tasks: Conduct a comparative review of current astronomy science centers in terms of the kinds of roles and services that they provide, their size (e.g., budget, staff), the extent to which they utilize centralized or distributed approaches to their architecture, the roles and status of their staff, the nature of their host or governing institution, governance structure, how they were established by NASA (e.g., sole source versus competition). Identify best practices and lessons learned from experience to date with NASA astronomy science centers. Assess the questions of whether there are optimum sizes or approaches for science centers, whether there are rational break points in levels of service for centers, and what may be significant advantages or disadvantages for different scales of service. The study will consider all aspects of centers’ service to the astronomy community, including space mission operations planning, data processing and archival, grants to observers and data users, science community communications and advocacy. The study is not intended to be a performance review of current centers, but it is expected to provide an assessment to serve decision-making with regard to future centers.