(NRC, 2007a) regarding broader NASA approaches to DSS (as outlined in Chapter 1 of this report) but does not repeat those here.
CONCLUSION 1: Applications of NASA’s data and research to societal benefits have historically been limited by questions about NASA’s mission and role, and have lacked sustained commitments and program stability.
Historical limitations have included variations in (1) emphasis on NASA’s responsibilities for Earth system programs versus space programs, and (2) NASA’s responsibilities for delivering benefits versus delivering data and models for others to use in the delivery of benefits. Mandated changes in these roles over time, in addition to perceived interpretations of these roles by NASA, have made ASP’s bridging role between NASA and the user community difficult to implement.
The relatively long time periods required to deliver significant societal benefits through applications of NASA’s Earth observations and research depend on consistent interest and support from the top levels of the agency and integration with the wider range of NASA programs. Because of the long-term nature of NASA’s activities, NASA’s successful engagement in extending research to operations also requires policy continuity that is supported by Congress.
CONCLUSION 2: The current U.S. government-wide emphasis on ensuring societal benefits from Earth observing systems is unprecedented, and presents a special opportunity for NASA to enhance its focus on achieving such benefits. The committee views ASP as a key asset for fulfilling the emerging national commitment to societal benefits.
At no time in the history of efforts to relate space-based observations and Earth system models has so much U.S. government-wide emphasis been placed on assuring societal benefits from observing systems. Notable examples include the strategic plans for the Integrated Earth Observing System (IEOS) Program and the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS) Program. Moreover, the Decadal Study (NRC, 2007a) specifically included a panel on applications and societal benefits, recognizing the importance of these issues in the coming decade. Much of this kind of emphasis has emerged in the last 10 years, creating a time when special opportunities exist for innovative thinking and program refinement.