Astronomy and Space Sciences

The primary needs for and uses of data from space are in fundamental research, but there are many collateral applications, such as precise positioning, mapping of the Earth, navigation, education, and even entertainment, as the public interest in Comet Shoemaker-Levy demonstrated. Astronomy is indeed interesting to the public. As such, its data must not only be collected, but also be interpreted and made available for formal and informal educational purposes, as well as for the advancement of our knowledge about the universe.

Most data in astronomy and space sciences come from observations made from Earth's surface or from spacecraft;6 a modest fraction of the data comes from laboratory experiments. The data from experiments, terrestrial or in spacecraft, conform closely in character to data in the laboratory physical sciences. Usually, an individual observer or observing project collects the data and distributes them to other individuals as soon as they have been taken. These data frequently have significant value to other researchers and for purposes other than those for which they were gathered. It is useful, for example, to compare data taken by different observers in different wavelength bands or to compare observations at different times in order to interpret variable objects. Hence it is important to store space science data in a form readily available to other researchers. Most astronomical data archives, which are open to all scientists, do so. Use of these archives is limited only by ease and cost of access. Consequently, this community has had to adopt efficient data management practices throughout the life cycle of the data, to permit effective access by the entire community, national and international.

Research in astronomy and space sciences is collaborative and, inherently, deeply international; it requires multinational efforts to collect data and to implement efficient transnational exchange of data. Electronic links now provide the requisite efficient communications and exchange of data. The scientific reasons for this international character include the following:

  • Ground-based observatories must be located at optimal observing sites, such as mountaintops with good observing conditions, which are found only in certain countries;
  • Some experiments require simultaneous observations at several points, such as long-baseline radiointerferometry;
  • Only parts of the sky can be seen from any single location; and
  • Some observations, such as those in the x-ray and far-ultraviolet regions, can be made only from outside the atmosphere, and hence require orbiting observatories, while others require sending probes to other planets, which creates a need for collaboration with scientists in nations that have space programs.

An economic driving force for the internationalization of space science is the

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