5.4 Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan

A Report of the SSB Ad Hoc Committee on the Assessment of the NASA Science Mission Directorate 2014 Science Plan

Summary

At the request of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Space Studies Board (SSB) initiated a study to review a draft of the SMD’s 2014 Science Plan. The request for this review was made at a time when NASA is engaged in the final stages of a comprehensive, agency-wide effort to develop a new strategic plan and at a time when NASA’s budget is under considerable stress. SMD’s Science Plan serves to provide more detail on its four traditional science disciplines—astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space physics (also called heliophysics), planetary science, and Earth remote sensing and related activities—than is possible in the agency-wide Strategic Plan.

In conducting its review of the draft Science Plan, the Committee on the Assessment of the NASA Science Mission Directorate 2014 Science Plan was charged to comment on the following specific areas:

•   Responsiveness to the NRC’s guidance on key science issues and opportunities in recent NRC reports;

•   Attention to interdisciplinary aspects and overall scientific balance;

•   Identification and exposition of important opportunities for partnerships as well as education and public outreach;

•   Integration of technology development with the science program;

•   Clarity on how the plan aligns with SMD’s strategic planning process;

•   General readability and clarity of presentation; and

•   Other relevant issues as determined by the committee.

The main body of the report provides detailed findings and recommendations relating to the draft Science Plan. The highest-level, crosscutting issues are summarized here, and more detail is available in the main body of the report.

RESPONSIVENESS TO NRC GUIDANCE

The draft Science Plan is generally responsive to the four most recent NRC’s decadal surveys of relevance to this review and one midterm assessment:

•   Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society;1

•   Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022;2

•   New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics;3 and

•   Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,4 and Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey.5

Specific areas where responsiveness was a concern are called out in the discipline-specific sections that appear in Chapter 2 of this report. The committee noted that throughout the draft Science Plan a number of the challenges NASA is faced with are broadly discussed, but the details surrounding the manner in which these challenges impact SMD’s prioritization of what will be done at the tactical level are not clearly described. The draft plan does not make clear what science, recommended by decadal surveys, is not being pursued owing to a lack of resources. The draft Science Plan does not provide clear descriptions of the mechanisms used to determine the intra- and

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NOTE: “Summary” reprinted from Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, pp. 1-6.



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52 Space Studies Board Annual Report—2013 5.4 Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan A Report of the SSB Ad Hoc Committee on the Assessment of the NASA Science Mission Directorate 2014 Science Plan Summary At the request of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Space Studies Board (SSB) initiated a study to review a draft of the SMD’s 2014 Science Plan. The request for this review was made at a time when NASA is engaged in the final stages of a comprehensive, agency-wide effort to develop a new strategic plan and at a time when NASA’s budget is under considerable stress. SMD’s Science Plan serves to provide more detail on its four traditional science disciplines—astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space physics (also called heliophysics), planetary science, and Earth remote sensing and related activities—than is possible in the agency-wide Strategic Plan. In conducting its review of the draft Science Plan, the Committee on the Assessment of the NASA Science Mission Directorate 2014 Science Plan was charged to comment on the following specific areas: •  Responsiveness to the NRC’s guidance on key science issues and opportunities in recent NRC reports; •  Attention to interdisciplinary aspects and overall scientific balance; •  Identification and exposition of important opportunities for partnerships as well as education and public outreach; •  Integration of technology development with the science program; •  Clarity on how the plan aligns with SMD’s strategic planning process; •  General readability and clarity of presentation; and •  Other relevant issues as determined by the committee. The main body of the report provides detailed findings and recommendations relating to the draft Science Plan. The highest-level, crosscutting issues are summarized here, and more detail is available in the main body of the report. RESPONSIVENESS TO NRC GUIDANCE The draft Science Plan is generally responsive to the four most recent NRC’s decadal surveys of relevance to this review and one midterm assessment: •  Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society;1 •  Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022;2 • ew Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics;3 and N • arth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,4 and E Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey.5 Specific areas where responsiveness was a concern are called out in the discipline-specific sections that appear in Chapter 2 of this report. The committee noted that throughout the draft Science Plan a number of the challenges NASA is faced with are broadly discussed, but the details surrounding the manner in which these challenges im- pact SMD’s prioritization of what will be done at the tactical level are not clearly described. The draft plan does not make clear what science, recommended by decadal surveys, is not being pursued owing to a lack of resources. The draft Science Plan does not provide clear descriptions of the mechanisms used to determine the intra- and NOTE: “Summary” reprinted from Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, pp. 1-6.

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Summaries of Major Reports 53 inter-­ isciplinary prioritization from a scientific perspective and does not describe the manner in which plans will d be altered based on available resources. Failure to provide this information drastically diminishes the ability of the draft Science Plan to serve as a tool by which to clearly and efficiently communicate a coherent picture to readers of what is planned and what can be expected to be achieved by any specific date, if ever. The committee concluded that for the future ability of the United States to conduct world-class space science activities it is important for SMD to clearly state what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished with the baseline budget. It is critical that there are no false expectations that substantial progress will be achieved without the provision of significant resources. Recommendation: The Science Plan should explicitly discuss the threats to the implementation of the recommendations and priorities contained in the four recent decadal surveys. The Science Plan should also demonstrate and describe how SMD will support or not support the decadal surveys and provide an associ- ated rationale, impact assessment, and mitigation plan. Recommendation: The decision processes by which the Science Mission Directorate will make strategic choices impacting the implementation of decadal survey recommendations in the current challenging fiscal environment should be discussed in plain language in the Science Plan. The draft Science Plan does not mention the fact that the cadence of Explorer missions in heliophysics and astrophysics and Discovery missions in planetary science is far below that recommended in the respective decadal surveys. Nor does the draft Science Plan place sufficient emphasis on the potential of these small/medium-size PI-led missions to provide a steady stream of new science results at a time when the possibilities for implementing new large missions is severely limited. Recommendation: The draft Science Plan should be amended to place more emphasis on the potential of principal-investigator-led missions to achieve important science goals, even in challenging times. Explicit priorities for augmentation of these programs should be stated, and program balance with missions should be addressed via the application of the decision rules from the relevant decadal survey. How high-priority science questions might be answered through such missions should be discussed. The draft Science Plan makes no mention of the implications for cost growth in major missions (e.g., Mars 2020, Solar Probe Plus, and WFIRST) and the impact such growth has on the implementation of a balanced program across SMD and within its four science divisions. However, the committee is encouraged by the words in the plan on the general issue of containing mission costs. Recommendation: Since the potential for an unconstrained large mission to offset the overall balance of SMD’s overall program is considerable, the Science Plan should clearly indicate how cost, scope, and complexity of major projects (e.g., Mars 2020, Solar Probe Plus, and WFIRST) will be constrained as they evolve from formulation through development and onto launch. SCIENCE BALANCE As discussed in Chapter 2, scientific balance is an important topic in each of the four relevant decadal surveys. While this issue is discussed in the draft Science Plan, the topic deserved a more thorough treatment with respect to balance within and across disciplines. Failure to achieve the proper scientific balance can result in the loss of both capability and capacity in specific scientific areas that, once lost, may be difficult or impractical to recreate in an acceptable period of time and within a practical expenditure of resources. In particular, the committee is concerned about the consequences of the “stretching out,” because of budget shortfalls, of the implementation of specific p ­ rojects that are responsive to recommendations from one or more decadal surveys. A potential consequence is the loss of an entire generation of scientists and technical ability in the affected disciplines and the substantial erosion of national capabilities and leadership in these areas. The draft Science Plan does not communicate this fact effectively or offer a description of how NASA plans to address this challenge or what diminution of short- and long-term capacity and capability the agency is prepared to accept.

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54 Space Studies Board Annual Report—2013 The committee concludes that a clear description of what constitutes scientific balance is missing from the draft Science Plan. The committee defines balance to mean an equitable division of resources between different scien- tific disciplines and subdisciplines; between large, medium, and small spacecraft missions; and between mission and non-mission activities, such as technology development and research and analysis programs. Also missing is a discussion of the importance of a balanced program or any mention of the potential impact on NASA programs and national capability if balance is not achieved. The addition of such a discussion would provide the readers of the Science Plan with the context from which to make better informed decisions regarding management and prioritiza- tion of these space science activities on an SMD-wide and discipline-by-discipline basis. Recommendation: The Science Plan should include a discussion of balance that includes science goals, mission targets, and mission classes and explicitly indicate how these agency choices derive from, or remain at variance with, the decision rules and other recommendations that were clearly laid out in the four decadal surveys. If they are at variance with NASA’s plans, then, in addition, NASA’s rationale for not utilizing these decision rules and prioritization criteria should be stated explicitly. INTERDISCIPLINARY ASPECTS As discussed in Chapter 3, the draft Science Plan acknowledges important interdisciplinary connections b ­ etween the four traditional space science disciplines and related activities within and outside of NASA via a series of illustrative examples. The examples chosen are not always entirely optimal because some do not explain how the relevant activities link two or more of SMD’s divisions and/or NASA directorates. Earth science, in particular, requires effective coordination and integration of data and models across many disciplines to address the fundamen- tal issues in the Earth system. However, the draft Science Plan lacks a clear strategy for enabling and supporting such inherently interdisciplinary interactions on either the national or international level and does not address the long-term effectiveness of the program in providing measurable progress in answering the overarching questions of Earth system science. In summary, the interdisciplinary examples (in boxes) in the plan are not universally successful in describing the linkages between the activities of SMD’s four divisions or between SMD and other NASA directorates. Some boxes (e.g., Planetary Protection) only discuss activities conducted within a single division, and some (e.g., Exoplanets) concentrate on the activities of one to the near exclusion of the others. Recommendation: The interdisciplinary examples in the Science Plan should explicitly indicate how the activities described therein link the activities of two or more NASA divisions and/or directorates. OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARTNERSHIPS As discussed in Chapter 4, there are numerous opportunities for intra-governmental and international collabora- tion in all areas of space science, and the decadal surveys describe the value of such activities and recommend many to be pursued. While the draft Science Plan includes discussion of some of these partnerships, there are key aspects that are still missing (e.g., the general perception that NASA has not been the most reliable partner in international activities). In addition, there is a lack of clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities of partners within and outside of NASA, including international partners. Recommendation: The Science Plan should include a clearer discussion of the roles and responsibilities of the Science Mission Directorate with respect to partners within NASA (e.g., Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Space Technology Missions Directorate and Office of the Chief Technolo- gist) as well as outside of NASA (e.g., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, U.S. Air Force, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and commercial and private entities), including with international agencies (e.g., European Space Agency, Indian Space Research Orga- nization, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

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Summaries of Major Reports 55 EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH As discussed in Chapter 5, following the proposal in the Administration’s FY2014 budget request to consoli- date educational responsibilities outside NASA, the committee notes that there is no discussion in the draft Science Plan of how NASA will coordinate with the Department of Education and other agencies in education and public outreach. The draft Science Plan fails to articulate any proposed actions to mitigate any negative impacts of such realignment. In particular, there is no clear delineation of how NASA science and SMD-supported scientists will continue to be incorporated in educational and outreach activities and products as roles and responsibilities are redistributed within NASA (from SMD to NASA’s Education Office) and within the federal government. With regard to public outreach, the committee is concerned that the draft plan does not address any actions SMD may undertake to ensure scientific disciplines not be isolated from the participation in the formulation and execution of public outreach activities, because these activities provide a unique opportunity to give investigators an unfiltered, timelier mechanism to communicate directly with the public. Recommendation: Given the administration’s proposed realignment of education and outreach activi- ties, the Science Plan should clearly explain how NASA will retain the strong synergy between SMD’s sci- ence and mission activities and the creation of education and outreach products and activities that engage students and the public and grow the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics pipeline. INTEGRATION OF TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT WITH THE SCIENCE PROGRAM As discussed in Chapter 6, the draft Science Plan’s treatment of issues relating to technology development and, in particular, the integration of science and technology programs is inconsistent at best and completely absent from the astrophysics and heliophysics sections of the document. The draft Science Plan fails to provide a coherent picture of technology development in SMD and to tie activities in the various disciplines to technology develop- ments recommended in the respective decadal surveys. Nor does the draft Science Plan contain any mention of the how to identify the cross-divisional technologies necessary for the cost-effective implementation of decadal survey priorities or optimum approaches individual divisions might employ to “buy down” the costs of implementing the decadal survey recommendations. The draft Science Plan briefly identifies how SMD will interact with the Space Technology Mission Director- ate (STMD), but it fails to provide a clear picture of the relative roles and responsibilities of SMD, its divisions, and STMD for technology development. In addition, it is important to recognize that technology development can be a very effective way to foster interdisciplinary activities, but it is not clear from the draft Science Plan that such opportunities are being vigorously pursued. Recommendation: The Science Plan should explicitly describe a technology plan that clearly defines how and what technologies require development and what activities and programs are supported by the plan, as recommended in their respective decadal surveys. Recommendation: The Science Plan should describe the relative roles and responsibilities of which organizational entities at NASA will be responsible for each specific technology development effort. ALIGNMENT WITH SMD STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS As discussed in Chapter 7, the committee would not have been able to understand how the draft Science Plan is used in the formulation of the NASA Strategic Plan without its interaction with NASA officials. This is a major concern, because the inability of the draft Science Plan to clearly communicate its message as a stand-alone docu- ment diminishes its overall effectiveness. This lack of clear communication coupled with the present challenges to execution stemming from uncertain and reduced levels of funding, technical challenges and changing direction from the administration, makes the likelihood that any plan will be realized, as currently described, extremely remote. Recommendation: The relationship between the SMD Science Plan, the NASA Strategic Plan, and rel- evant legislative mandates should appear in a succinct fashion somewhere in the Science Plan itself.

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56 Space Studies Board Annual Report—2013 Recommendation: The methods and mechanisms for prioritization from both programmatic, scientific, and resource-allocation perspectives should be clearly described in the Science Plan. READABILITY AND CLARITY OF PRESENTATION As discussed in Chapter 8, the draft Science Plan is uneven with respect to the level of detail and clarity across disciplines as well as in its use of examples and graphics that clearly communicate the salient points. It appeared as if the document was written by a committee without the benefit of a cohesive editing effort to ensure that the important points were made in a clear, concise, and compelling manner and that the facts had been appropriately checked. There are numerous factual and other errors in the draft Science Plan (see Appendix B for examples) as well as the absence of a consistent style or level of detail across the document. The draft Science Plan does not contain a clear description of how the program, as now proposed, is consistent with or varies from past NASA plans and the recommendations from the various decadal surveys. For example, there is no mention of how the Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper missions relate to the priorities contained in the planetary science decadal survey. Also, the associ- ated long- and short-term impacts to the space science program caused by the substantial reduction in resources on planned implementation and the rationale for these changes is not clearly described. Recommendation: A thorough review and editing of the draft Science Plan should be undertaken to ensure that it is more concise (brevity is a virtue), factually accurate, self consistent, and relevant to the message that NASA intends to convey to potential readers and stakeholders. Recommendation: A clear description and accounting of how the current plan varies from past plans and the recommendations contained in relevant decadal survey, and the underlying reasons for any devia- tions, should be provided. CONCLUSIONS NASA finds itself faced with a number of challenges in the near and more distant future. One of the most fun- damental challenges is the uncertain and apparently decreasing level of available funding for space science in real terms, because this has dramatic and real impacts to plans and execution. This fiscal reality makes it more important than ever for NASA to have a clearly articulated and consistently applied method for prioritizing why and how its scarce fiscal resources will be apportioned with respect to the science program in general and on a more granular level among component scientific disciplines. The rationale behind this apportionment needs to be transparently communicated both internally and externally so that the impacts of both a tactical and strategic nature are properly understood and taken into account to guide action. Failure to do so could result in a loss of capacity, capability, and human resources in a number of scientific disciplines (e.g., X-ray astrophysics) and technological areas (e.g., aero- capture) that may take a generation or more to reconstitute once eliminated. Decisions that will cause a failure to achieve previously declared goals, or a loss of national capability and capacity, ought to be a deliberate and clearly communicated choice. SMD’s Science Plan would benefit from addressing these critical issues explicitly and with clarity, something it currently fails to do. In summary, the committee reiterates a point it made above regarding the responsiveness of the draft Science Plan to NRC guidance: It is important for the health of space science in the United States for SMD to clearly state what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished with the baseline budget. It is critical that there are no false expectations that substantial progress will be achieved without the provision of significant resources. REFERENCES 1. National Research Council (NRC). 2013. Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2. NRC. 2011. Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 3. NRC. 2010. New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 4. NRC. 2007. Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 5. NRC. 2012. Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.