numerical simulations will be both helpful and practical in making the connections between astronomical observations, astrophysical theory and remote observing.
In the three complementary areas of digital data handling, intensive data processing, and theoretical modeling, astronomers are ready to take advantage of the expected technological advances of the 1990s: widespread of use of parallel computers, large increases in memory capacity, revolutionary improvements in data storage technologies, widespread use of graphics and visualization techniques, desktop high-performance workstations, high-speed networking, and powerful new algorithms.
The near future will see most researchers with access to powerful and flexible desktop computers linked over a national network, to each other as well as to high-value resources such as supercomputers and national observatories and data banks. Scientific visualization capabilities will be commonly available. The ability to bring together on the desktop the results of both complex simulations and detailed observations, and to be able to interact with each data set visually as well as quantitatively, could profoundly influence the progress of the astronomical sciences.
In the 1960's, the Federal government provided the funds needed to set up first rate university computing centers. However, for fifteen years between 1970 and 1985, the Federal government removed itself from maintaining these facilities at the state-of-the-art. During that period few scientists had access to the newest computational technologies. Instead, shared departmental mini-supercomputers accessed by "dumb terminals" became the standard resource for most astronomers.
There was a radical reversal of this policy of "benign neglect" in 1985 when the National Science Foundation (NSF) formed the national supercomputer centers and began the national NSFNET network. These computational resources were financed from divisions of the NSF separate from disciplinary divisions. Access was not decided by money, but by peer review. Due to this democratization of access, in the last four years, over twenty thousand university scientists, engineers, social scientists, and humanists at over 250 universities and colleges have gained access to frontier computing technologies housed in the NSF supercomputer centers. There is a factor of 100 times the computing speed, memory, and storage capacity in the national centers as sits today on the desktop of the typical individual scientist. The National centers allow the benefits of substantial economies of scale with the cost of these facilities being borne across all fields of science and engineering. We presume that the NSF, NASA, and DoE supercomputer centers, upgraded and enlarged, will continue to provide this resource to our community.
During the same period, 1985-1990, individual workstations emerged which were as powerful as the previous departmental facilities. Most astronomers have managed to switch from "dumb terminals" to personal computers or workstations in the last five years. These desktop machines allow individualized control over one's computational research environment. The power and flexibility of these machines will continue to grow rapidly during the next decade. In addition, RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computers) technologies have created a new version of the departmental computer which is near the speed and memory of a mini-supercomputer. The power of the departmental mini-supercomputers of the '90s will match or exceed those of the present generation of supercomputers. By the mid-1990's the computing power of the desktop computers, departmental minisupers and the central supercomputers will be at least 100 times what it is today.
The national network, which allows the researcher to "reach out" and grab that extra power when needed, has one thousand times the bandwidth compared to a user's access path just four years ago. The bandwidth of the national network will rise by yet another factor of 1000 during the coming decade. "Supernodes" arise naturally on the national network containing both specialized computational resources, and national digital archives of data - both from observations and from simulations. It is in computer networking that some of the greatest advances will come. As the gigabaud national network becomes a reality, there are three areas where revolutionary changes become possible. The first will be the use of facilities at the national centers from institutions all over the country. The second area is remote access to a distributed national digital library, which might contain scientific publications, previous observations, and results of theoretical simulations. Third is the remote control of "supertelescope systems" and the real time transport of the data to the astronomer.