2010 was the best of years for the Space Studies Board, if not for NASA.
As predicted in last year’s annual report, 2010 was a busy year for the Space Studies Board with four decadal surveys underway, and one, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (joint with the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA), http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12951), released in August. During the course of the year the steering committee and panels of the planetary sciences decadal were very active gathering information from the community and setting priorities and formulating recommendations. Their report, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13117), although released in March 2011, is another major accomplishment for the SSB in 2010. Similarly the committee and panels of the first-ever decadal survey of life and microgravity sciences in space—a joint study with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB)—completed much of their work in 2010, including the release of an interim report, Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration: An Interim Report (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12944). Their final report Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13048) was released in April 2011 but is essentially a product of 2010. Finally, the decadal survey on solar and space physics, got underway in 2010, and it is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2012.
As well as being a busy year, 2010 was a year of innovation for the SSB. With the exception of the life and physical sciences survey, which did not prioritize missions, the decadal survey committees and panels assessed for the first time the interrelated issues of engineering and technical readiness, managerial complexity, and cost appraisals as they made their recommendations. Framing their recommended programs within budget scenarios, the surveys were not able to recommend a long list of worthy but unaffordable missions. They had to work hard to evaluate each individual proposal, and they had to work even harder to choose among them. The net result was that the planetary science and astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys made fewer but more concentrated recommendations. Only truly first priority recommendations survived.
Never has there been a more complete assessment of NASA space sciences. Never have so many labored so much and so well on strategies whose chances of realization were more uncertain than now.