Table 1 and Figure 1 show the NASA budget for research grants to universities and national centers for FY87 through FY90. Also shown are the projections for FY91 through FY95. Note that the budget for the Astrophysics Theory Program is expected to double in FY91 and to remain constant thereafter, although this projection is not yet definite. The support for wavelength-specific theory (i.e., not including the Astrophysics Theory Program) is about 15% of the Research & Analysis budget. Funding for theory of both types is provided by the High-Energy, UV/Optical, and IR/Radio Branches. There is also support for theoretical astrophysics from the Mission Operations and Data Analysis Program. As a result, the total support for astrophysics theory by NASA somewhat exceeds 15% of the total budget for astrophysics science grants.

The specific recommendations for NASA by the Panel are as follows:

*1. NASA should expand the Astrophysics Theory Program to $4 million in FY91 (as planned) and progressively to $8 million/year by the end of the decade (in constant FY90 dollars). A mixture of large and small groups should be supported. As the funding increases, the announcements of opportunity should be issued more frequently. Exceptionally meritorious proposals should be funded for five year terms.

*2. NASA should continue to support wavelength-and mission-specific theory in both the Research & Analysis Program and the Mission Operations and Data Analysis Program so that the total support for theory (including the Theory Program) is at least 15% of the total support for astrophysics science grants. The solar and planetary divisions should continue their strong support of theory as well.

*3. NASA should continue to support theoretical astrophysics at the Space Telescope Science Institute and at NASA Centers such as Ames and Goddard. There should be at least comparable theoretical presence at any new organizations responsible for the scientific oversight of the Great Observatories (GRO, AXAF and SIRTF).


* DOE should support theoretical astrophysics at universities and the DOE laboratories insofar as it is relevant to DOE programs (e.g. particle astrophysics, nuclear astrophysics, atomic and molecular astrophysics, plasma astrophysics, computational astrophysics). The existing theoretical programs at Fermilab, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and Los Alamos National Lab are successful examples which should be strongly supported and should be emulated at other DOE labs, such as RHIC and the SSC as they develop.

Recommendations by Agency: Laboratory Astrophysics

Theoretical and experimental laboratory astrophysics require special attention because of some unique problems.

Laboratory astrophysics is interdisciplinary. This asset can, unfortunately, lead to bureaucratic confusion and inaction when no branch, division, agency, etc. will take responsibility for research projects with applicability to several fields of astronomy.

Much of the atomic, molecular and nuclear laboratory astrophysics that is vital to astronomy is no longer at the forefront of basic research in physics and chemistry. Consequently, data for astronomy can no longer be expected as spinoffs from fundamental research supported by funding agency divisions that are not dedicated to astronomy. Laboratory astrophysics must be supported by astronomy divisions.

In the particular case of experimental laboratory astrophysics, a decade of reduced support has left the laboratory infrastructure in decay and the practitioners demoralized and, thus, leaving the field. Increased and consistent funding is needed to maintain the national capability to provide fundamental atomic, molecular and nuclear parameters required for effective use of the vast amounts of data that will be produced by the new, very expensive, ground-based and space observatories of the 1990's.

The creation of new funds expressly for laboratory astrophysics, with the goal of dealing with specific astrophysical problems, will attract more researchers in the related fields. In addition, if some of these funds are used to improve the communication between astrophysics and the related fields, such as by cross disciplinary workshops/conferences, the astrophysical problems can be brought to the attention of those most competent to do the research.

Mechanisms are needed to insure long-term stable funding for laboratory and theoretical groups interested in pursuing nuclear, atomic, molecular, and optical research related to astronomy and astrophysics.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement