research. In creating the task group, special attention was given to involving a mix of scientists with long-standing familiarity with NASA science programs and "newcomers" who could bring a fresh perspective to the SSB's analyses. Efforts were also made to seek wide input from the research community via consultations with the SSB's discipline-specific standing committees, invitations for comments from members of key professional societies, and solicitation of comments to the task group on the Internet. The task group also engaged a consultant with expertise in the budgeting process to assist in compiling historical data on NASA science budgets for use in studying trends in resource allocations.

The statement of task for the study identified a number of areas that would be appropriate topics for review. These included evolution of the character of R&DA projects; evolution of the relative roles of universities and NASA centers in R&DA programs; the relationship between R&DA, advanced technology development, and MO&DA programs; characteristics of R&DA projects judged to be successful in supporting a smaller, faster, cheaper approach to flight missions; assessment of the expectations for R&DA in different NASA science offices; management issues for R&DA; and options for strengthening the program in the current NASA environment. These areas provided general guideposts at the beginning of the study; specific topics emerged during the review to become focal points for attention.


Chapter 1 of this report provides an introduction to the role and character of projects included in R&DA and summarizes the motivation for the study. Chapter 2 focuses on questions of the actual breadth and depth of impact of R&DA programs. In reviewing the history of research conducted under R&DA in NASA's three science offices—space science, Earth science, and life and microgravity science—the task group developed a sampler of specific accomplishments that illustrate the return on investments in R&DA. These examples highlight seven different kinds of contributions, namely:

  1. Discoveries that influence societal and economic issues and policies;

  2. Breakthroughs that change scientific understanding;

  3. Technologies that enable new observations;

  4. Information that improves mission design;

  5. Investments that increase the productivity of flight projects;

  6. Research that complements the work of other federal agencies; and

  7. Science-driven adventure that stimulates interest in math, science, or engineering education.

Although the treatment of R&DA in different NASA offices often has been fragmented and nonuniform, the task group adopted (Chapter 3) a set of seven elements that form a suitable organizing framework:

  1. Theoretical investigations;

  2. New instrument development;

  3. Exploratory or supporting ground-based and suborbital research;

  4. Interpretation of data from individual or multiple space missions;

  5. Management of data;

  6. Support of U.S. investigators who participate in international missions; and

  7. Education, outreach, and public information.

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