1. In conformance to the Space Act of 1958, science will continue to have a central role among NASA activities.

  2. Because of the rich return from earlier missions, there are more opportunities for new discovery than there are resources available to exploit them.

  3. To fulfill its scientific mandate, NASA will continue to receive appropriated funds for scientific research, and, as an agency, will have the responsibility of distributing and administering these science funds. Because opportunities will outstrip these resources, this responsibility will entail priority setting.

  4. Judgments about scientific merit will have a major role in the agency 's administration of resources allocated to it for scientific research.

  5. Practicing scientists are the most qualified arbiters of scientific merit.


The following goals have been identified for priority setting in NASA's space research programs:

  1. Conforming to its charter in the Space Act, the scientific research sponsored and managed by NASA should vigorously advance knowledge in the areas in which it is undertaken.

  2. Scientific efforts sponsored by NASA should be proposed and evaluated in the context of research sponsored and conducted elsewhere and should be competitive with this other research in interest, quality, and importance.

  3. In order to optimize the return on expended resources for science while addressing other technological objectives for the agency laid out in the Space Act, NASA's scientific research program should appropriately balance innovation with risk of failure. This will help set the directions for technological development and ensure that benefits of new capabilities are realized for the science programs.

  4. NASA's research portfolio should be opportunistic, not only in the technological sense (goal 3 above), but also in terms of focusing on areas most ripe for significant advances with the resources and capabilities available. Prioritization should consider all relevant factors, including opportunities to contribute to policymaking and other public needs, in optimizing scientific return for the resources invested.


Defining the Problem

The space sciences, like any natural science, begin with scientific ideas and goals that are transformed into research programs4—the means of carrying out the necessary experimental or observational research. In space science, though, the cost and complexity of many missions are much greater than in most other areas of science. Therefore, the relative practical priority of the scientific goals, that is, the strategy and timing of attacking them, might be more strongly determined by mission considerations than is the case in other areas of science. This is especially true in light of the extraordinarily long lead times that are associated with some of the large space science missions.

Figure 5.1 presents a schematic life cycle for the priority-setting process. Figure 5.2 shows relationships between various key players in this process. As is seen below, the level of scientific and technical detail involved in the inner feedback loop in Figure 5.1 will vary depending on where it is being done in the flow diagram of Figure 5.2. In some instances, scientists on disciplinary committees can


By “program” is meant the collective activities in a discipline or subdiscipline (or even across disciplines) that include both missions and ground-based research—all the activities directed toward a goal or set of goals.

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