discipline-specific advisory bodies at the NRC providing input to the agencies and other stakeholders. Kennel also mentioned the mid-decade reviews as another important element of decadal survey stewardship. He concluded his introductory remarks by asking participants to consider which decadal survey the standing committees and mid-decade (or midterm) reviews are stewarding: the last survey or the next one? Perhaps, he suggested, an NRC task force could be established to outline preparatory efforts that could be undertaken for the “next” decadal survey.
Waleed Abdalati said that successful stewardship of the decadal surveys begins with a solid understanding of the surveys: what they are, how they come about, and how they are used. Abdalati suggested that not everyone views the surveys from the same perspective. He referred back to remarks made during Lennard Fisk’s keynote presentation earlier in the workshop where Fisk said that science at NASA is conducted on behalf of the science community. Abdalati said that this is worth thinking about in more depth, but he would characterize the science done at NASA as being conducted on behalf of the nation. To this end, the decadal surveys only deal with a couple of dimensions of a multi-dimensional challenge. There are other priorities involved in NASA science strategic planning, for instance, administration and congressional priorities, workforce and education issues, and interagency and international relationships, to name just a few. However, there exists a gap—a missing element—to bridge the advice from the scientific community with the implementation of said advice. Historically, filling this gap has been the responsibility of the various internal and external NASA advisory bodies; it is not simply a matter of NASA making judgments on how to proceed, but neither do these advisory bodies necessarily have the expertise to fully “flesh out” an implementation strategy. To alleviate this natural and healthy tension, he explained, all vested stakeholders need to clarify and align expectations. Abdalati takes a different view when it comes to the life and physical sciences in space (a.k.a. microgravity research) decadal survey,2 which he liked because it had clear expectations for what should be done. He contrasted the microgravity decadal to the other Earth and space science surveys, where NASA was expected to take the report and come up with its own implementation plan. He suggests that future decadal surveys explicitly articulate the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved and that those roles are agreed to in advance.
Stacey Boland then provided her thoughts on decadal survey stewardship from having worked on both a decadal survey and a mid-decade assessment and from currently serving on an SSB standing committee. She explained that the decadal survey process, from initial design all the way to implementation at the agency, is not only about bringing all stakeholders to the table, but keeping them there as well. All of the decadal surveys, she explained, face the challenge of providing specific and clear guidance while also allowing for flexibility in implementation. Ultimately, she said, reality is none of the scenarios a decadal survey committee has in mind, and the timescale of reality is significantly shorter than that of a decadal survey. As opposed to laying out an explicit implementation scheme in the survey, Boland said that what is important when transmitting a decadal survey to NASA and other sponsors is to make sure that the decadal survey clearly states what overriding concerns and issues those implementing the survey must take into account when making their decisions on how to execute the survey. Along the same vein, Boland told participants that trust and communication are the bridge that Abdalati previously mentioned.
Boland concluded her opening remarks by talking about the midterm assessment. The 2012 Earth science survey midterm review did not use grades, which can be used as an opportunity to cut budgets, regardless of whether a program or mission gets a high or low grade. The midterm needs to capture the progress being made in implementing a survey. In the case of the Earth science midterm, even though the launch cadence had not kept up, there was still significant progress made on the program, although much remains to be done. One thing the midterm emphasized in particular was that the original decadal survey emphasized Earth system science, which the current program had begun straying away from. Among other issues, Boland explained how the study committee used the midterm to provide corrective actions—
2 National Research Council, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.