afterglows enable us to associate GRBs with the birth cries of black holes from across the universe. Swift’s success was rewarded when it was identified as the highest-ranked mission in the 2007 senior review—a process that compared its scientific returns to those of major flagship missions. The GALEX Small Explorer (SMEX) ultraviolet mission is changing our understanding of how stars formed and how galaxies evolved over the past 10 billion years of cosmic history, and it is now supporting an active guest investigator program. The recently launched WISE MIDEX is successfully conducting an all-sky mid-infrared survey with announced discoveries ranging from asteroids and comets to active galactic nuclei.

In addition to these stand-alone experiments, the Explorer program supports Missions of Opportunity (MoOs)—contributions of instruments or investigations to space programs led by other countries. MoOs provide highly leveraged mechanisms to broaden the astrophysics program, deploy new technologies, and return significant science for relatively modest investments. In addition, suborbital science experiments can be proposed as MoOs.14

NASA’s suborbital (balloon and rocket) programs enable scientific experiments with equipment ranging from particle detectors to X-ray, gamma-ray, infrared, and microwave instruments. They support substantive scientific investigations in areas such as CMB and particle astrophysics, fulfill essential needs in technology development, and provide invaluable hands-on training. Notably, key positions in mission development across NASA are occupied by people who received their training through participation in suborbital missions. This group is aging, however, and replacements are few (Figure 5.8). Although NASA maintains a technical workforce within its stably funded centers, the groups in universities that train students to renew NASA’s talent are subject to large variations in funding associated with individual missions. As a result of diminishing astrophysics budgets combined with full-cost accounting, the NASA centers are also now competing for the smaller training projects that used to be located across multiple universities.15 In light of identified exceptional science opportunities now and ahead, there is a clear need to renew the talent pool of experienced instrumentalists, and the committee makes a number of related recommendations in this report. In Chapter 7, the committee recommends increased support for the Suborbital program, as well as an augmentation to the Explorer program that will double the number of opportunities for stand-alone missions and vastly increase the number of Missions of Opportunity. Historically, Explorer missions and suborbital experiments have


National Research Council, Revitalizing NASA’s Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation, and Developing a Workforce, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010. Available at Accessed May 2010.


See the 2010 National Research Council report Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. Available at

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