1
Introduction

1.1 SCIENCE: THE FULCRUM OF THE CIVILIAN SPACE PROGRAM

The second half of the 20th century has been a time of momentous developments in science, medicine, and technology. The exploration and utilization of space are singular in the boldness with which they have pushed the expansion of human knowledge and engaged the imagination of citizens worldwide. In executing its programs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been carrying out the mandate expressed in the National Space Act of 1958, which emphasized the goals of expansion of knowledge, U.S. scientific and technological leadership, international cooperation, and wide dissemination of results.

In 1991, the presidentially appointed Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program (the "Augustine committee") ranked science first among NASA's priorities and characterized it as the program's "fulcrum."1 The National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) echoed a similar viewpoint a year later in its report on setting science priorities, which asserted that "development of new knowledge and enhanced understanding of the physical world and our interactions with it should be emphasized as the principal objective of space research and as a key motivation for the space program." 2

Effective science, clearly a mandate for NASA, involves asking significant questions about the physical world and seeking definitive answers. Its product is new knowledge, and new uses of knowledge, that have value to the nation. NASA's flight projects are highly visible and usually the most costly

1  

Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., December 1990; National Science and Technology Council, "National Space Policy," The White House, September 1996.

2  

National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Setting Priorities for Space ResearchOpportunities and Imperatives, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 8.



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Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis 1 Introduction 1.1 SCIENCE: THE FULCRUM OF THE CIVILIAN SPACE PROGRAM The second half of the 20th century has been a time of momentous developments in science, medicine, and technology. The exploration and utilization of space are singular in the boldness with which they have pushed the expansion of human knowledge and engaged the imagination of citizens worldwide. In executing its programs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been carrying out the mandate expressed in the National Space Act of 1958, which emphasized the goals of expansion of knowledge, U.S. scientific and technological leadership, international cooperation, and wide dissemination of results. In 1991, the presidentially appointed Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program (the "Augustine committee") ranked science first among NASA's priorities and characterized it as the program's "fulcrum."1 The National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) echoed a similar viewpoint a year later in its report on setting science priorities, which asserted that "development of new knowledge and enhanced understanding of the physical world and our interactions with it should be emphasized as the principal objective of space research and as a key motivation for the space program." 2 Effective science, clearly a mandate for NASA, involves asking significant questions about the physical world and seeking definitive answers. Its product is new knowledge, and new uses of knowledge, that have value to the nation. NASA's flight projects are highly visible and usually the most costly 1   Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., December 1990; National Science and Technology Council, "National Space Policy," The White House, September 1996. 2   National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Setting Priorities for Space Research—Opportunities and Imperatives, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 8.

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Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis elements of this process, but they are only a part of the science enterprise. Flight projects are founded on research that defines clear scientific goals and questions, designs missions to address these questions, and develops the required technologies to accomplish the missions. This research is funded primarily by NASA's research and analysis (R&A) programs. Data from flight projects are transformed into knowledge through analysis and synthesis—research that is funded both by R&A programs and by the data analysis (DA) portion of mission operations and data analysis (MO&DA) programs. R&A and DA programs are the subject of this report and are grouped for convenience under the single heading of research and data analysis (R&DA).3 Beyond NASA's mandate for science, the agency embraces as an integral part of its objectives sophisticated technology—such as new microelectronics and detectors, innovative launch systems, robotics, and artificial intelligence—that enables flight projects and contributes to other terrestrial applications as well. R&DA defines, focuses, and integrates scientific and technical objectives to take maximum advantage of this technological progress. Similarly, R&DA contributes to the scientific foundation that underlies the development of many of the applications that result from NASA's work. Recent advances in such areas as global communications, navigation, and weather prediction are dependent on a combination of advanced science and advanced technology. In speaking of "science" in NASA's programs and of the impact of R&DA activities on science, the task group means much more than just the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Important basic research is often stimulated by some societal need, and conversely good basic research often opens the way for new tools and approaches that are translated into societal or economic benefits. In a paper marking the fiftieth anniversary of Vannevar Bush's report Science: The Endless Frontier,4 Princeton University political scientist Donald Stokes referred to this aspect of science as "use-inspired basic research." 5 A substantial number of the key scientific questions framing NASA's science programs, especially in the Earth and life and microgravity sciences, reflect such a use-inspired orientation. 1.2 CRITICAL SCIENCE QUESTIONS The R&DA grants and contracts that fund university and industry researchers facilitate the agency's link to the nation's intellectual resources. Through them, NASA provides science to inform public policy debate, opportunities to train the nation's young scientists and engineers, scientific developments that stimulate technology breakthroughs, and new avenues for education at all levels. These ground-based programs identify the critical science questions that can be addressed through the use of aeronautics and space technologies and through access to unique suborbital and orbital laboratories and spacecraft or deep-space probes. Among these questions are the following: How did the universe begin and what is its ultimate fate? How and where did life begin? How do galaxies, stars, and planetary systems form and evolve? 3   The task group originally coined the composite term "R&DA" to designate research and data analyses that were funded outside of spaceflight projects. Because NASA budgets do not separate cleanly this way, R&DA became a catch-all surrogate for all science-related activities that were funded outside of spaceflight projects. More specific alternatives to "R&DA" were defined for the discussion of budget trends in Chapter 4. 4   Vannevar Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier, Appendix 3, "Report of the Committee on Science and the Public Welfare," U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1945. 5   Donald Stokes, Vannevar Bush II: Science for the 21st Century, Sigma Xi, Research Triangle Park, N.C., 1995, p. 28.

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Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis How is the evolution of life linked to planetary evolution and to cosmic phenomena? Can climate be predicted a year or a season in advance? How do terrestrial ecosystems respond to land cover and land use change? What is the role of gravity in the biological processes of plants and animals? How does gravity affect the common processes found in natural and industrial activities? 1.3 REVITALIZATION In the early 1990s, NASA faced reduced budgets at a time when many flight projects were becoming increasingly complex, lengthy, and costly. To respond to this dilemma, NASA introduced a revitalization regimen based on a new model for flight projects that has been captured in the mantra "smaller, faster, cheaper." An early advocate of the new strategy was physicist Freeman Dyson,6 who argued that "quick is beautiful," meaning that "smaller and less cumbersome space-science missions" could more easily respond to new ideas. Smaller, faster, cheaper missions promise a robust flight rate by scaling many flight projects within the science enterprise to smaller launch vehicles that cost tens of million dollars rather than the hundreds of million dollars of larger vehicles; to durations of 3 to 6 years rather than the career-consuming 10 to 15 years that were becoming common; and to project costs that permit risk taking rather than the billion-dollar costs that freeze out innovation. Under the new model, costs are contained through small payloads, sharply reduced project lifetimes, an emphasis on technical innovation, and a willingness to compromise the breadth of science objectives to achieve more limited objectives more quickly. Although larger missions will continue to be important to achieve some science objectives,7 smaller missions are now a significant portion of NASA's program. As the faster-paced style of the agency has begun to take hold, some concerns are also emerging. At some levels of NASA management, the central and unique nature of R&DA in the NASA mission is becoming blurred or even lost. Many of these perceptions have been expressed. They include the lack of clear and consistent representation of R&DA's role in congressional testimony regarding agency resources, the shifting of resources from R&DA to cover overruns in flight programs, and the transfer of responsibility from flight missions to R&DA for analysis of core data from a given mission without a commensurate transfer of funds. 1.4 BALANCE BETWEEN R&DA PROGRAMS AND FLIGHT PROJECTS If both R&DA programs and flight projects are essential for the effectiveness of NASA's unique science, then there must be an optimum balance between them. Too few flight opportunities would cause NASA to lose the unique opportunities that research in and from space brings to science; too little investment in R&DA programs would cause NASA to lose the intellectual content needed to identify and answer significant scientific questions. The overarching theme of this report is that the effectiveness of NASA's unique science enterprise derives from an essential balance between R&DA programs and flight projects. The task group illustrates the central role of R&DA programs through examples of exceptional successes (Chapter 2); 6   Freeman Dyson, "Quick is Beautiful" and "Science and Space," pp. 135-179 in Infinite in All Directions, Harper & Row, New York, 1988. 7   National Research Council, Space Studies Board, The Role of Small Missions in Lunar and Planetary Exploration, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995; National Research Council, Space Studies Board, The Role of Small Satellites in NASA and NOAA Earth Observation Programs, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. (in preparation).

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Supporting Research and Data Analysis in NASA's Science Programs: Engines for Innovation and Synthesis develops the tie between R&DA investments and agency strategic goals (Chapter 3); marshals available data that describe current R&DA investments and trends (Chapter 4); explores some specific concerns of scientists vis-à-vis the R&DA programs (Chapter 5); and presents its findings and recommendations (Chapter 6). Many of the points raised are not new. They have been addressed before by the Space Studies Board8 and by other advisory bodies.9 Finally, the task group emphasizes that this report is not an appeal for an increase in NASA funding. It is an assertion that the activities funded by R&DA programs are essential to NASA's science enterprise, that the recent decreases in R&DA funds as a fraction of NASA's science budget are harmful to the quality and productivity of NASA's investment in science, and that R&DA programs have to be integrated more consciously into NASA's strategic management practices. 8   National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Managing the Space Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995; letter report sent by Space Studies Board Chair Claude Canizares to NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science Wesley Huntress, "On NASA's Office of Space Science draft strategic plan," August 27, 1997. 9   Space and Earth Sciences Advisory Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, The Crisis in Space and Earth Sciences, November 1986; National Commission on Space, Pioneering the Space Frontier, Bantam Books, New York, May 1986; Steven Wofsy, Report of the NASA Earth System Science and Applications Advisory Committee (ESSAAC), February 12, 1997.