The committee believes that NASA, NSF, and DOE will need to include funding for laboratory astrophysics in support of new missions and facilities and supports this conclusion in its proposed program. Other funding models should be considered if it is deemed necessary and cost-effective.
RECOMMENDATION: NASA and NSF support for laboratory astrophysics under the Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis and the Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants programs, respectively, should continue at current or higher levels over the coming decade because these programs are vital for optimizing the scientific return from current and planned facilities. Missions and facilities, including DOE projects, that will require significant amounts of new laboratory data to reach their science goals should include within their program budgets adequate funding for the necessary experimental and theoretical investigations.
Ground-based astronomical observatories are often long-lived, and their integrated operating costs frequently exceed their construction cost by a large factor. It is therefore good stewardship to manage the NSF portfolio wisely and to balance continued support of older facilities with the development and operation of newer ones. To address this challenge, NSF-Astronomy completed its first senior review exercise in 2006. The need for these reviews is ongoing.
CONCLUSION: Maintaining an appropriate balance in NSF’s astronomy and astrophysics research portfolio and, by extension, balance in the health and scientific effectiveness of the NSF facilities requires a vigorous periodic senior review.
RECOMMENDATION: NSF-Astronomy should complete its next senior review before the mid-decade independent review that is recommended elsewhere in this report, so as to determine which, if any, facilities NSF-AST should cease to support in order to release funds for (1) the construction and ongoing operation of new telescopes and instruments and (2) the science analysis needed to capitalize on the results from existing and future facilities.