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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
of science, or of infrastructure, are needed to maintain the balance that is essential for a vibrant astronomy and astrophysics research program.
INDIVIDUAL INVESTIGATOR PROGRAMS
Individual investigator programs are paramount in realizing the science potential of existing facilities, in pathfinding for future space missions and ground-based projects, and in training the current and future workforce. A healthy enterprise in astronomy and astrophysics requires a vigorous research grants program.
The fundamental products of astronomy (or any other science) are the discoveries resulting from research—new testable and tested ideas. The data analysis and dissemination and theoretical work performed by both individual scientists and science teams are ultimately responsible for the amazing results witnessed in astronomy in the past few decades. One of the most important secondary products is people who are trained in the broad discipline of science and who have skill in quantitative thinking and analysis, numerical computation, instrumentation and engineering, teaching, and project management.
Astronomers use complex and sophisticated tools and facilities such as satellites (e.g., the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Spitzer Infrared Observatory, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope), ground-based facilities (e.g., NRAO plus ALMA, NOAO plus Gemini telescopes), and computing (high-performance networks, large-scale clusters, and software) to produce these products. However, supporting the development, construction, and operation of astrophysics facilities is far from all that is required to produce the superb results and discoveries that have driven the field and captured the public’s imagination. It is the combination of improved capabilities and facilities and the resources to use them effectively that has led to the remarkable scientific advances in astronomy. Scientific progress thus depends on and requires that individual investigators be supported, including being granted the resources that train students and postdoctoral fellows.
A significant challenge for the astrophysics program is how to maintain support for individual investigators pursuing a broad range of activities in a landscape where specific, large programs provide a fluctuating level of funding for associated analysis and theory. Realizing the scientific potential of existing facilities is of primary importance, but so is placing the broad range of results in appropriate context, providing young scientists with opportunities to develop their potential, and enabling the creative thinking that lays the foundations for the future.
As in most fields, the primary mechanisms for supporting research and training are competed grants programs. NASA funds both general mission-enabling grants programs and those supporting the specific science from operating satellites, such as the guest observer programs associated with Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer,