Major instruments with wide public use on federally supported telescopes and facilities would benefit greatly from pipelines that deliver calibrated data and data products for storage in a public archive. General-purpose community analysis software packages like the Image Reduction and Analysis Facility and Astronomical Image Processing System currently used by optical and radio astronomers are more than 30 years old and will not be able to handle future needs. In addition, specialized programs for automated data-handling tasks across many areas of astronomy and astrophysics must be written. New packages capable of handling large data sets are urgently needed. These are likely to be created and employed within a common-use environment. Flexibility, openness, and platform independence, modularity, and public dissemination are essential to this effort. Focused investment in a series of small-scale initiatives for common tool development and the collection of those tools in a public portal may be the most cost-effective approach, although there are undoubtedly synergies with the pipeline development needed for the large-scale projects. Further, central data archives, in which the survey committee recommendeds all future major projects participate, could maintain current software versions and provide community access and documentation for general data reduction tools.
A major recommendation of this report, directed to both the ground and the space programs, is that more support should be directed toward activities of intermediate scale. For the space program, both NASA’s Explorer program and its Suborbital program are recommended in Chapter 7 for funding increments. For the ground-based program, the committee endorses the recommendations of several previous advisory groups to NSF that there be mid-scale funding opportunities, and it recommends in Chapter 7 a new competed program. Medium-scale programs and experiments offer excellent return for the investment and are essential to the capability for responding flexibly to new scientific opportunities, for demonstrating novel techniques and instruments, and for training the experimental scientists, engineers, and managers who will execute the major missions and observatories of tomorrow.
The designers of missions and telescopes, and those who implement instruments and understand their performance, are central to the astrophysics enterprise. One of the most important elements for reducing technical and schedule risk for any space mission or major ground-based project is a highly experienced team.