5
Science Community's Perceptions About The Research And Data Analysis Programs

The task group sought from the standing discipline committees of the Space Studies Board a sense of the research community's concerns about the R&DA programs.1 Each committee was invited to comment on R&DA-related issues of innovation and technology insertion; smaller, faster, cheaper missions; "big science" versus science of opportunity; adequacy of facilities; and relative roles of NASA field centers and academia. Their responses are organized into four areas: (1) resource allocation; (2) technology, facilities, and infrastructure; (3) research grant management; and (4) maintenance of intellectual capital. The task group also notes whether or not its data validate committee perceptions.

5.1 RESOURCE ALLOCATION

Perception Of Reduced Funding For Data Analysis

NASA has transferred much of the responsibility for data analysis from MO&DA accounts that had been part of flight projects to the general R&DA programs. This approach may allow flight projects to appear less costly because the expense no longer appears in the flight budget, but researchers note that these savings are illusory because the data must still be analyzed for the nation to benefit from the mission. Members of the scientific community argue that there is no evidence that R&DA accounts were increased to reflect increased responsibility for data analysis.

1  

 These committees include the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Committee on Earth Studies, Committee on Microgravity Research, Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, Committee on Solar and Space Physics-Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research, and Committee on Space Biology and Medicine.



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



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 58
Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis 5 Science Community's Perceptions About The Research And Data Analysis Programs The task group sought from the standing discipline committees of the Space Studies Board a sense of the research community's concerns about the R&DA programs.1 Each committee was invited to comment on R&DA-related issues of innovation and technology insertion; smaller, faster, cheaper missions; "big science" versus science of opportunity; adequacy of facilities; and relative roles of NASA field centers and academia. Their responses are organized into four areas: (1) resource allocation; (2) technology, facilities, and infrastructure; (3) research grant management; and (4) maintenance of intellectual capital. The task group also notes whether or not its data validate committee perceptions. 5.1 RESOURCE ALLOCATION Perception Of Reduced Funding For Data Analysis NASA has transferred much of the responsibility for data analysis from MO&DA accounts that had been part of flight projects to the general R&DA programs. This approach may allow flight projects to appear less costly because the expense no longer appears in the flight budget, but researchers note that these savings are illusory because the data must still be analyzed for the nation to benefit from the mission. Members of the scientific community argue that there is no evidence that R&DA accounts were increased to reflect increased responsibility for data analysis. 1    These committees include the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Committee on Earth Studies, Committee on Microgravity Research, Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, Committee on Solar and Space Physics-Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research, and Committee on Space Biology and Medicine.

OCR for page 58
Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis Task group finding. NASA budget and expenditure records did not allow the task group to determine whether equivalent funds for the new DA demands on R&DA programs were actually transferred with the tasks. The data do show (see Table 4.1, Chapter 4) that the fraction of R&A funding relative to NASA's science-related budget has decreased by approximately 35 percent over the past 8 years at the same time that MO&DA funding as a fraction of the total science budget fell about 30 percent. It is also clear that, although R&A has become a smaller fraction of the science enterprise, it has assumed roles that were once part of flight projects (see Chapter 3). These observations are consistent with scientists' sense of ''shrinking" research dollars. Perception Of Excessive Concentration Of R&DA Activities In NASA Field Centers And At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory The external science community is concerned that a disproportionate fraction of R&DA research resides in the field centers and that the trend is toward increasing this fraction. Many scientists argue that field centers have a history of pulling work that was once in universities into the centers. The NRC report Managing the Space Sciences notes that field centers should maintain highly qualified, practicing scientists, but only insofar as the research these scientists conduct relates to the programs and projects the scientists are responsible for supporting. 2 However, some members of the external science community argue that prototype instruments, once the domain of universities and industry, are now thought to be developed disproportionately in field centers or at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as "facility" instruments or as investments to capture future flight opportunities. Despite the current emphasis on missions led by principal investigators (PIs), members of the science community note that it is very difficult for universities to acquire and maintain capabilities to build flight instruments. Moreover, some members note that instrument development teams and instrument design skills therefore cannot be maintained at universities without sufficient infrastructure, opportunities, and resources to build them. The university role in flight hardware development is important for the creation of new and innovative technologies and sensors and for the training of young scientists and engineers. For example, the value of developing these technologies within universities is recognized by the National Science Foundation through its instrument development postdoctoral program. Task group finding. About 40 percent of NASA basic research (see Table 4.2) is performed in NASA field centers and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and some fraction of the 30 percent of NASA basic research funds that go to industry likely is used for contractor support of field center research. Perception About Opportunities In Universities For Instrument And Technology Development To Support Smaller And Shorter-Duration Missions The NRC report Managing the Space Sciences describes the role of NASA field centers in managing complex missions. Scientists from the community at large value field center assistance with, for example, mission design, ground systems for mission operations, and facilities for integration and test of 2    National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Managing the Space Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995, p. 44.

OCR for page 58
Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis PI-supplied spacecraft.3 Moreover, they recognize NASA's increased use of the PI mode as the management approach for Explorer-class missions.4 Having said this, the task group fully endorses the assertion from Managing the Space Sciences "that scientific research should, for the most part, be conducted outside the agency."5 Task group finding. Contrary to the example in this perception, the task group's data do not show a decline in NASA awards to universities for instrument and spacecraft development. If anything, the percentage of NASA basic research awards to universities for these activities rose slightly over the past decade. The fraction of research funding going to field centers appears to have fallen (from about 45 percent, including intramural and FFRDCs) since 1991, while the fraction for universities has increased (from 21 to 26 percent) over the same period (see Table 4.2). 5.2 TECHNOLOGY, FACILITIES, AND INFRASTRUCTURE Scientific discovery and productivity can depend as much on advances in technology as on developments in theory and analysis. Concerns expressed by members of the scientific community concentrate on a waning attention to facilities and infrastructure, poor linkage between science needs and technology development, access to NASA facilities, and peer review of technology development. Perception Of Reduced Support For Research Facilities In Academia The Space Studies Board's discipline committees perceive that investments in research facilities in academia are being neglected. Facilities cannot be built under the smaller, faster, cheaper flight programs as they could be under the major flight programs of the past. Laboratories, observatories, and supporting infrastructure are funded only sporadically by R&DA programs. Task group finding. During the decade preceding 1995, there was a decrease in funding for what the task group calls "support facilities" (technical and engineering support such as sounding rocket engineering support, flight management systems, and maintenance and operations of some specialized tracking facilities). Yet there was also a significant increase in what the task group has labeled "science facilities" (operation of NASA research support facilities such as the National Scientific Balloon Facility, the Poker Flats Rocket Range, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, and the MacDonald Laser Ranging Station) and in cumulative awards to universities (see Table 4.3). The task group notes that these science and support facilities programs are difficult to track due to accounting changes and subsequent reallocations of funds between science and support programs. The task group finds that, when these facilities are considered together, funding for all facilities (science and support) has been stable or slightly increasing. Perhaps most importantly, the task group also finds that programs within these categories tend to support national facilities rather than facilities located on university or college campuses. 3    National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Managing the Space Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995. 4    National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Assessment of Recent Changes in the Explorer Program, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1996, pp. 1-2. 5    National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Managing the Space Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995, p. 44.

OCR for page 58
Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis 5.3 RESEARCH GRANT MANAGEMENT Perception Of Declining Success Rate And Decreasing Size Of Awards Investigators report that their success rate for winning grants is declining and that the size of their grants has decreased. Their response has been to submit more proposals. The nonproductive burden on the research community of writing and reviewing these proposals is large. Task group finding. OSS estimates that the current success rate in space sciences is about 30 percent for all proposals and about 10 percent for new proposals. Based on task group discussions with NASA, OES estimates an overall success rate of approximately 25 to 30 percent, whereas OLMSA estimates that success rates range from 12 to 23 percent overall.6 In other federal agencies such as the EPA, success rates are even lower, around 10 to 15 percent for the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program,7 and across NSF, success rates for FY 1996 awards were reported at 29 percent, having declined steadily over the past 5 years from 34 percent.8 Although total funding of university grants for space research has increased, the number of awards to universities has also increased substantially (see Table 4.4). Consequently, the grant seen by the typical investigator has not increased: The median award size for so-called net space research increased only slightly from $68,000 to $70,000 (in constant 1995 dollars) per year over the decade, but the mode value—the size of the typical award—for net space research decreased by 25 percent in constant dollars over 10 years from $67,000 to $50,000. When the data are sorted by NASA program office, the task group finds that the problem of small and decreasing grant size was most severe in OSS. OLMSA, on the other hand, showed increases in award size over the period (see Figure 4.3). The task group's data do not permit it to determine the extent to which the increasing number of awards may be due in part to multiple awards to single investigators rather than to increasing numbers of investigators being sponsored. 5.4 INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL Perception Of Limited Opportunities To Gain Instrument Development Experience Scientists from the external community explain that success with smaller, faster, cheaper missions entails the rapid incorporation of ideas and discoveries from past flights into new hardware and missions. This can happen only when many of the participating scientists and engineers have had experience in developing, testing, and flying new instruments. Senior scientists note that the number of investigators with instrument-building experience eroded during the period of large, but infrequent, missions. Task group finding. Table 4.3 in Chapter 4 shows a significant increase in instrument development activity in universities, both in terms of funding level and as a fraction of the total awards to universities. This could be a reflection of the recent introduction of instrument incubator programs in some disciplines and a few other well-funded PI-class missions (e.g., the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer [FUSE]). 6    Success rates for individual NASA proposal competitions will vary from one to another. The estimates for overall success rates are imprecise and informal. 7    The U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development, National Center for Environmental Research and Quality Assurance. 8    National Science Foundation, Report on the NSF Merit Review System, FY 1996.

OCR for page 58
Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis 5.5 OTHER PERCEPTIONS There were other concerns raised by the Space Studies Board's discipline committee members that were not addressed by the task group's budget data. For example, scientists are concerned about shorter-duration missions, which may require investigators to seek funding for mission extensions through the R&DA programs. Members of the community also argue that NASA research announcements (NRAs) focus heavily on particular missions and data, thereby reducing a program's flexibility to fund cross-disciplinary research. In addition, some scientists perceive a lack of science-driven technology programs and reduced support for science facilities, such as high-altitude aircraft and suborbital platforms. Finally, members of the external community are concerned about difficulties in attracting the best talent to graduate programs. They sense that the decreasing employment opportunities for Ph.D. scientists limit the ability to attract innovative thinking to NASA-funded sciences. Although some of these concerns have been discussed earlier in this report, they are not particularly illuminated through analysis of funding data.