During the 1980s, Congress and the relevant federal agencies responded positively to the advice offered by the previous Astronomy Survey Committee in the “Field Report” (NRC, 1982). The success in implementing recommended programs despite limited resources was possible in large part because of the work of dedicated people in government service.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) implemented, fully or partially, several of the Field Committee recommendations for new ground-based facilities. For example, the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) for radio astronomy is now nearly completed. The NSF also provided partial support to build two new 4-m-class telescopes at universities and initiated design work on 8-m-class telescopes. The NSF also supported the construction of a submillimeter telescope on Mauna Kea.
In addition, the NSF Astronomy Division responded to the astronomical community's enthusiasm in initiating the solar Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG) project. Through the Division of Polar Programs, the NSF supported an innovative research program that exploits the unique advantages of the South Pole for astronomy, and through the Physics Division, NSF carried out major programs in particle astrophysics such as the Fly's Eye telescope, the Chicago Airshower Array (CASA) project, and theoretical investigations.
Despite the scientific and technical accomplishments of the past decade, a major crisis has developed in the support of ground-based astronomy. The number of observers doubled, and major new observational facilities were added, because fundamental scientific problems were ripe for solution and required ground-based facilities. Nevertheless the support for facilities and basic research has decreased in purchasing power to 36 percent of what it was, per astronomer, in 1970, resulting in a serious erosion of the research infrastructure.
The policy framework for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space astronomy and astrophysics program was provided by the Strategic Plan (NASA, 1988, 1989) for the Office of Space Science and Applications. The strategic plan strongly supported the four Great Observatories recommended by the Field Committee in 1982. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is operating, and instruments that will correct for the flawed mirror are expected to be available in a few years. The Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) is scheduled to be launched in 1991. The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) is under construction, with final approval contingent on successful tests of the mirrors. NASA's goal of providing new windows to the universe, if successfully completed, will be among the most important organized intellectual efforts of the 20th century.
The second-ranked intermediate program of the Field Committee, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopy Explorer (FUSE), is now under development, and the