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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) Space Studies Board Annual Report—1992 3 Summaries of Reports 3.1 SETTING PRIORITIES FOR SPACE RESEARCH: OPPORTUNITIES AND IMPERATIVES A Report of the Task Group on Priorities in Space Research1 [Policy] is like a play in many acts, which unfolds inevitably once the curtain is raised. To declare that the performance will not take place is an absurdity. The play will go on, either by means of the actors . . . or by means of the spectators who mount the stage. Klemens von Metternich, 1880 REPORT MENU NOTICE FROM THE CHAIR CHAPTER 1 The U.S. space program and its space research components have CHAPTER 2 produced remarkable achievements in the past three decades and generated a CHAPTER 3 wealth of opportunities for scientific initiatives in the years ahead. As we CHAPTER 4 approach a new century, we must decide: What should we do? How should we CHAPTER 5 do it? Answers to these questions are critical for the future success of the space program and space research (that is, scientific activities concerned with phenomena in space or utilizing observations made in, or from, space). The answers will affect the strength of the national scientific and engineering enterprise, national economic vitality, and the national sense of pride and purpose. Answering the first question is equivalent to setting priorities for space research. Answering the second question requires that we develop a model for our activities that will facilitate accomplishing our highest-priority activities. Priorities, as used here, are rankings in a preferential ordering or agenda, possibly multidimensional, that governs allocation of resources to activities or initiatives. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (1 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) For some time, the objectives of the space research community and those of the broader space program have been in conflict. Apollo demonstrated national technological superiority at a critical time. A fundamental assumption of the civil space program developed in that era asserts that it is human destiny to explore the universe. As a consequence, the civil space program continues to emphasize the mechanical aspects of flying spacecraft and transporting humans through space. In contrast, scientific vision focuses on the outcome of space activities, insisting that the means of conducting scientific research be determined by the objectives and purposes of that research itself; it emphasizes the information and understanding generated rather than the means of obtaining them. New realities of international competition, domestic politics, and economics suggest the need to review the contributions of space research to national vitality. The accomplishments of the past and the many opportunities now available, as well as the widely recognized need to provide stimulation and motivation to education, suggest that we reconsider how scientific research in space is conducted. Fundamental assumptions about the objectives of space research and the space program that makes it possible may determine the outcome of research more than judgments about scientific merit, or national values, or imperatives presented by the new realities mentioned above. Thus the issue is not the relative value of the human spaceflight and space research components of the space program. Rather, it is to develop objectives and operating principles that will produce the maximum benefits from the nation's investment in space research and other space activities. The imperative driving scientific research is the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. The collection of data, the creation of information through its analysis, and the subsequent development of insight and understanding should be key governing objectives for scientific research in space and for the broader objective of the space program. As suggested in the preface, the task group believes that this vision is compatible with the human spaceflight program and that the entire space program itself would be invigorated by concentrating on timely and compelling scientific objectives. Emphasizing information and understanding will not compromise the overall space program's legitimate interest in the technology of spaceflight because formidable engineering and technical challenges must be met in order for space research to achieve its objectives. It will, however, permit the space research program and the overall space program to concentrate on the development of powerful new techniques for acquiring, communicating, synthesizing, and using information. And because information itself is an increasingly critical and economically valuable resource, this effort can enhance our national technological progress and economic strength while it enhances our scientific accomplishments. Thus the vision of a space program and a space research effort emphasizing information, knowledge, and understanding presents an ideal format in which to consider priorities for space research. The central thesis of this report file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (2 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) is that the space science and applications community should reach a consensus on priorities for scientific research in space. Since we cannot do everything, we should do the most valuable things, with the recognition that a collection of smaller efforts may in sum be more important than a single large initiative. The task group believes that a scientific agenda set forth by the community, with due regard for contemporary political and economic realities, will greatly assist policy makers and will ultimately prevail. Such an agenda, along with the reformulation of assumptions governing space research, will better serve scientific and national goals, achieve maximum return on investment, encourage effective congressional and agency action, and provide benefits for the nation's citizens. ACCOMPLISHMENTS, PROSPECTS, AND LESSONS FROM THE U.S. SPACE RESEARCH PROGRAM The accomplishments since 1957 of U.S. scientific research in space have broadened and deepened understanding of our physical environment. As with all science, these accomplishments are but harbingers of even greater future achievements. Past successes have created a multiplicity of opportunities for space science and applications. Moreover, our more than 30 years of experience in space research has provided important lessons on how to operate the program more effectively in order to obtain the maximum possible benefit from available resources. All disciplines reveal the complexity of the physical and biological world. Things are much more complicated than we thought at the beginning of the space age in 1957. As examples, consider the violent astronomical events, the courses of planetary evolution, the interactions of solar and terrestrial magnetic processes, the interdependence of the various components of the Earth system, and the changes in human physiology that occur in space. We can expect to discover even more variety and more complexity in the years ahead. Perhaps the most striking accomplishment of the U.S. space program is the demonstration that humans can work in space and on another body of the solar system and can travel to another part of the solar system and return successfully. This demonstration has opened the way for human exploration beyond the Earth for centuries to come. The value of the unique point of view attainable from space has been demonstrated beyond doubt. We gain more than just a different perspective: operating far from the Earth's surface expands the domain of parameters available to science. This expansion will continue with the return and analysis of samples from planets, asteroids, and comets, with observations that reach back even further toward the origins of the universe, with extended human presence in space, and with comprehensive views of the interactions of the Earth's physical and biological subsystems. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (3 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) In over 30 years of experience in space research, we have learned that flexibility and multiplicity of opportunity are key requirements. Although large missions may address the most urgent or most comprehensive scientific issues, small or moderate missions and suborbital initiatives can also resolve important scientific questions, and can do so more quickly and less expensively. For space research to produce maximum benefits, the objectives of scientific research should drive the mission rather than constraints imposed by the limitations of a program or a particular launch vehicle. TODAY'S IMPERATIVES Recent events at home and abroad require that we reexamine motivations, objectives, and methods of space research to ensure that they are responsive to contemporary imperatives. The key imperatives and their implications are as follows: Rapidly changing relationships between nations create new challenges and opportunities. Scientific efforts and space research must contribute to our ability to succeed in a vigorous economic and technological international competition. Domestic needs compete with scientific research in space and with the space program and force the nation to choose between research opportunities and other endeavors. Thus a focused and compelling space research agenda that clarifies the value and increases the productivity of both space research and the space program must be formulated. Public demand for accountability and for effective use of available resources is increasing. Space research and the space program must be conducted in accord with operating principles that will ensure that objectives are attained effectively. We must distinguish between initiatives in space that contribute to scientific understanding and those that are really aimed at nonscientific public purposes. There is widespread concern that our educational systems are not adequately preparing our citizens to participate effectively in an increasingly technological and competitive world. Success in space research can stimulate the curiosity of all young Americans and motivate some to choose careers in science, engineering, and technology disciplines. A vigorous space science program will provide information that interests, and perhaps enlightens, a national audience. Opportunities for international collaboration in space research are increasing. They are attractive because of the increasing complexity and cost of acquiring knowledge. But sharing the costs of space research with others cannot file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (4 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) alone justify international collaboration; rather, collaboration should be undertaken in space research only to enhance scientific achievement. OPERATING PRINCIPLES Space research and the space program must be managed according to operating principles that will ensure that resources are used effectively and that objectives are attained. The following principles are derived from our 30 years of experience in space research; adhering to them will enhance the acquisition of information and knowledge and facilitate the response of space research and the space program to today's imperatives. Enhance the human resource base. The community of working scientists and students should be maintained and invigorated to strengthen the national scientific enterprise. Acknowledge that choices must be made. Science raises more intriguing questions than can be answered or even addressed. Thus we should recognize that choices must be made. Capitalize on opportunities. Special opportunities to perform good research are sometimes offered by technological developments or demands for applications. Wise investments in technological development will create such opportunities, sometimes in unexpected ways. Capitalize on investments. Having chosen to start valuable projects, we should insist on finishing them, in satisfactory, cost-effective ways. We need to understand better the direct and indirect costs of abandoning projects already begun. Increase program control by principals. Making principal investigators responsible for quality and giving scientists an increased role in program management offer potentially large benefits. Secure access to space by diverse means. Access to space through a variety of means appropriate to particular research missions is a recognized requirement of a vital space program. THE RATIONALE FOR SETTING PRIORITIES Priorities are needed at several levels within the national scientific enterprise, within the space program, and within space research because the file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (5 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) success of science has created a wealth of opportunities for initiatives. Some initiatives will contribute more to scientific knowledge than others, some will enhance national economic and technological vitality, some will advance important applications of information from space, and some will assist in resolving important policy issues. An orderly process is needed to make the necessary choices. Chapter 2 illustrates the broad range of future prospects for space research that includes large and small missions, projects in different fields, and the need to support both mature fields and untested ideas. Developing priorities for scientific research in space requires a sophisticated approach because it is not possible to rank all scientific research activities in a single list. Any priority scheme should be multidimensional in nature, with certain classes of activities given higher priority than others. There are a number of important criteria: the value of an initiative to science, potential social benefits, costs and readiness to perform it, and the probability of success. A priority scheme should provide for balance and flexibility in the program and for the maintenance of essential, ongoing activities. Arguments for Setting Priorities There are two principal arguments in favor of the recommendation of an agenda for space research by the scientific community: Consensus is politically compelling. An agenda for scientific research in space created and supported by the community would be persuasive. If scientists demonstrate that their agenda responds to scientific imperatives and to national needs, they can argue effectively for an adequate share of resources and for an orderly progression through the suite of initiatives endorsed by the community. If scientists will not act, then others will. If scientists cannot, or will not, recommend priorities, then others whose goals may differ from those of the scientific community will take the stage and make the decisions. None of the reasons scientists cite for eschewing the strenuous work of reaching consensus prevent federal officials or congressional representatives from making the necessary choices. Addressing the Arguments Against Setting Priorities A number of arguments against recommending priorities are sometimes offered by scientists. Some of them are listed below, with explanations as to why the task group does not find them compelling: file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (6 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) There will be losers. Indeed there will be, but there are losers now. In fact, some who now enter the priority-setting process lose for reasons unrelated to the quality of the science. It would seem preferable that the community of scientists help to determine the winners. Recommending priorities is too difficult, too contentious. Recommending priorities is difficult but can be accomplished through a formal process in which competing initiatives are judged uniformly according to explicit criteria. If scientists find it too difficult to create a recommended program for space research, then, as said above, others will do it for them. The community will not be able to maintain consensus. Scientists loyal to initiatives not receiving strong recommendations may tend to subvert the process, it is argued, by lobbying for special favor. They would be better advised to develop more exciting initiatives. This argument and the two above combine to make a fourth: Setting priorities will be counterproductive because the community will tear itself apart. Moreover, the argument goes, at present the losers' rancor is directed at officials outside the community; if the community sets priorities, then the rancor will be turned inward. In essence, this is an argument that the science community is too immature to govern itself. The task group believes the community can behave responsibly and that its best interests will be served by doing so. The low-priority initiatives will not be done. The argument is that policy makers will take advantage of any list of priorities by eliminating the low-priority activities. That is precisely the reason priorities are recommended. It certainly seems preferable to abandon low-priority activities rather than to starve those with high priority. Scientists cannot make political judgments. Once scientifically meritorious proposals are put forward, this argument goes, the judgments about relative social benefits and the relevance to national needs are beyond the purview of scientists. But the task group believes that in arguing for initiatives, scientists should be sensitive to national goals and political realities. Because scientists expect support from the public, they should be able to explain why some initiatives better serve public purposes. Priorities have been successfully set by scientists in a number of contexts. For example, NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications (OSSA) has adopted a structured approach to the assignment of priorities using the priority recommendations of a scientific advisory committee. The result is a program in which annual budget requests are made in the context of a formal five- year plan. Clarifying the components of the program and specifically setting priorities among initiatives appear to have reduced uncertainty and divisiveness in the space research community, strengthened space research, and made the file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (7 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]
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Space Studies Board Annual Report-1992 (Summaries of Reports) program more attractive to the policy makers who provide the resources for it. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS Space research operates within the vision that governs the overall civilian space program. The task group concludes that emphasizing the acquisition and processing of observations and information and the conversion of this information into knowledge and understanding will simultaneously advance science and contribute effectively to national economic and technological vitality. Even with such a vision, the need to determine priorities among the various initiatives is inevitable. For these reasons the task group makes the following recommendations: Development of new knowledge and enhanced understanding of the physical world and our interactions with it should be emphasized as the principal objective of space research and as a key motivation for the space program. Acquisition and effective management of information derived from space should be a primary objective of our national activities in space. Concentrating on innovation in information management will produce benefits beyond space research. The requirements of space research itself should determine policy and programmatic decisions in space research and in the support of space research by the civil space program. Finally, the task group recommends that the Space Studies Board proceed to the next phase of the Priorities in Space Research study and thereby develop a methodology for assessing priorities for scientific research in space. Such an assessment procedure is possible, and its application will allow the establishment of priorities in space research that will benefit science, the U.S. civil space program, and the nation. The members of the scientific community conducting research in space have a responsibility to the public to undertake this task. 1"Summary and Recommendations" reprinted from Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1992, pp. 1-8. [The Executive Summary text of the following two reports is not included; a link is provided to the complete online reports.] file:///C|/SSB_old_web/an92ch3.htm (8 of 9) [6/18/2004 10:30:56 AM]