Space Studies Board Chair Claude R.Canizares delivered the following testimony before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 10, 1997.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Minority Member, and members of the subcommittee: thank you for again inviting the Space Studies Board here to testify this morning. My name is Claude Canizares, and I am chair of the Board and director of the Center for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My research specialty is x-ray astrophysics, and I am a Principal Investigator on NASA’s Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF).
As you know, the Space Studies Board has been the principal independent source of guidance to the civil space research program since NASA was created by statute in 1958. The Board’s primary focus has been strategic guidance for NASA’s many and diverse science programs. To carry out its responsibilities, the Board operates a number of specialized discipline panels and cooperates broadly with other groups within the National Research Council. Responding to the subcommittee’s letter of invitation, I will briefly provide the perspective of the Board and its committees, as provided in a number of NRC reports, on topics of interest to the subcommittee.
During the fall of 1996, the Board was privileged to be asked by NASA’s Office of Space Science to help put on a workshop on the theme of “Origins”; in this context, Origins encompasses “beginnings” in its broadest possible sense, from the first instants of the Universe we live in to the stirrings of life on Earth. The idea of the workshop was to bring together a very diverse group of scientists specializing in such different fields as cosmology and microbiology to consider the state of our knowledge across the theme of Origins and to identify, in general terms, directions for future research. It was planned that the results of the workshop would be provided to Vice President Gore in preparation for an Administration-Congress space summit to take place early in 1997.
The workshop, held on October 28–30, proved a stirring event. Sensing the opportunity to convey the excitement of their work to the highest levels of the Government, over three dozen of the nation’s ablest scientists participated on extremely short notice. A unifying realization that emerged across all the research areas represented was that humankind is genuinely, for the first time, at the threshold of real understanding of how we came to be. This is the result of new technologies for astrophysical, planetary, and biological measurement, new and powerful theoretical tools and principles, and advances in each area of research. Next to a shared sense that momentous answers are within reach of this generation, a major outcome of the workshop was a sharpened recognition of the fecundity of interdisciplinary research today. Thus, the workshop’s definition of Origins connects exobiology and
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 5 Congressional Testimony 5.1 Topics in the NASA FY98 Authorization Space Studies Board Chair Claude R.Canizares delivered the following testimony before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 10, 1997. Mr. Chairman, Ranking Minority Member, and members of the subcommittee: thank you for again inviting the Space Studies Board here to testify this morning. My name is Claude Canizares, and I am chair of the Board and director of the Center for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My research specialty is x-ray astrophysics, and I am a Principal Investigator on NASA’s Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF). As you know, the Space Studies Board has been the principal independent source of guidance to the civil space research program since NASA was created by statute in 1958. The Board’s primary focus has been strategic guidance for NASA’s many and diverse science programs. To carry out its responsibilities, the Board operates a number of specialized discipline panels and cooperates broadly with other groups within the National Research Council. Responding to the subcommittee’s letter of invitation, I will briefly provide the perspective of the Board and its committees, as provided in a number of NRC reports, on topics of interest to the subcommittee. THE ORIGINS PROGRAM During the fall of 1996, the Board was privileged to be asked by NASA’s Office of Space Science to help put on a workshop on the theme of “Origins”; in this context, Origins encompasses “beginnings” in its broadest possible sense, from the first instants of the Universe we live in to the stirrings of life on Earth. The idea of the workshop was to bring together a very diverse group of scientists specializing in such different fields as cosmology and microbiology to consider the state of our knowledge across the theme of Origins and to identify, in general terms, directions for future research. It was planned that the results of the workshop would be provided to Vice President Gore in preparation for an Administration-Congress space summit to take place early in 1997. The workshop, held on October 28–30, proved a stirring event. Sensing the opportunity to convey the excitement of their work to the highest levels of the Government, over three dozen of the nation’s ablest scientists participated on extremely short notice. A unifying realization that emerged across all the research areas represented was that humankind is genuinely, for the first time, at the threshold of real understanding of how we came to be. This is the result of new technologies for astrophysical, planetary, and biological measurement, new and powerful theoretical tools and principles, and advances in each area of research. Next to a shared sense that momentous answers are within reach of this generation, a major outcome of the workshop was a sharpened recognition of the fecundity of interdisciplinary research today. Thus, the workshop’s definition of Origins connects exobiology and
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 the search for planets to the origin of structure in the universe, the origin of galaxies and stars, the origin of the chemical elements, and solar and stellar influences on planetary habitats. At the same time, the workshop recognized that the Origins theme does not encompass every important problem of current space science—which is why strategic planning and peer review must continue to set programmatic priorities. Several other key areas of broad agreement were that: Answers to many profound questions are within our grasp, and we can expect the next steps to yield major progress over the coming years; It is not one, single, big step that is needed, but a portfolio of more moderate steps that will advance us sequentially, simultaneously and synergistically across the wide scientific frontier of this quest; The current space science program is basically already going in the right direction to give us the answers we seek; and The Origins quest can capture the public imagination like no other. On December 11, a subset of the workshop participants met with the Vice President to relay both the technical findings of the workshop and also a sense of the group’s broader sentiments. The meeting went very well, with Mr. Gore evincing a lively interest and asking a number of penetrating questions. You have before you now the President’s detailed budget proposal for FY98, and an outline for the next few years. I’m very pleased to report that this budget proposal strongly supports the vision of the Origins workshop, with its promise for dramatic discoveries that will fascinate and inform the general public. FUTURE PLANS FOR THE EXPLORATION OF MARS The Board’s Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration has devoted quite a bit of attention to Mars in the past two years, following publication of An Integrated Strategy for the Planetary Sciences in 1994 with a review of NASA’s planned Mars program and a scientific assessment of some of NASA’s Mars sample-return mission options, both in 1996. Next to Earth, Mars is the richest of the terrestrial planets in terms of diversity of the phenomena it displays. In addition, its proximity, size, and modest atmosphere make it relatively easy to explore. The scientific goals that we identified for the exploration of Mars are: understand the evolution of its surface and interior; characterize its atmosphere and the degree to which its climate has evolved over time; and search for extinct or extant life, including evidence of the accumulation of a reservoir of prebiotic organic compounds and determining the extent of any subsequent prebiotic chemical evolution. These goals are interrelated and, thus, must be addressed in a unified manner. The evolution of the planet’s atmosphere and surface, for example, is clearly relevant to issues relating to prebiotic evolution and the search for life, and vice versa. Thus, the general focus of NASA’s Mars exploration efforts should be directed toward the comprehensive goal of understanding Mars as a possible abode of life. This goal cannot be met by any single type of study. Rather, it requires a program linking remote-sensing (orbital) observations, with investigations conducted on the Martian surface, and studies of returned samples of Martian rocks, soils, and atmosphere in terrestrial laboratories. Orbital reconnaissance missions are the necessary first step. These studies will provide the scientific data needed to identify areas of particular interest for follow-up studies. Remote-sensing missions also provide data relevant to the design of instruments capable of surviving the harsh conditions on the Martian surface. Orbital systems are also needed to perform long-term observations of Mars’s atmosphere and to act as communications relays linking Earth with rovers and other high-priority surface systems such as networks of long-lived meteorological and seismic stations. The Space Studies Board has released two reports on planetary quarantine in relation to Mars exploration. Published in 1992, the report Biological Contamination of Mars: Issues and Recommendations addressed topics arising from Earth spacecraft landing on Mars. In March of this year, the Board released the report Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations. Studying the return of Mars samples to Earth, the authoring task group found that, although current evidence suggests that the surface of Mars is inimical to life as we know it, there remain plausible scenarios for extant microbial life on Mars—for instance in possible hydrothermal oases or in subsurface regions. For a number of technical reasons, contamination of Earth by putative Martian microorganisms is unlikely to pose a risk of significant ecological impact or other significant harmful effects. The risk is not zero, however.
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 The report states that uncertainties about the possibility of extant Martian life can be reduced through a program of research and exploration that might include data acquisition from orbital platforms, robotic exploration of the surface of Mars, the study of Martian meteorites, the study of Mars-like or other extreme environments on Earth, and the study of returned samples. However, each returned sample should be assumed to contain viable exogenous biological entities until proven otherwise. The report goes on to make specific recommendations for handling of Mars samples, both en route back from Mars and on the Earth, and suggests a number of preparatory steps that should be taken. STUDY OF NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS AND ORBITAL DEBRIS The Board’s Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration is currently completing a study on the science of near-Earth asteroids, to be available in 2–3 months; recommendations were also provided earlier in our 1994 planetary science strategy. Asteroids and other primitive bodies (such as comets) set important constraints on possible early histories of the solar system because certain among them appear to have undergone minimal chemical changes so that their compositions are believed to reflect that of the protoplanetary nebula in which the solar system formed. Detailed measurements of composition (elemental, molecular, isotopic, and mineralogic) will help us deduce the physical and chemical environments in which these primitive materials originated, and the evolution of their environments. The principal scientific priorities for the exploration of asteroids are understanding their diverse sizes, shapes, compositions, orbits, origins and evolutions. A major finding of the past two decades is that the Earth resides in a swarm of asteroids. Telescopic observations of about 80 of these objects indicate that they are very diverse in both physical characteristics and composition. Theoretical arguments suggest that this population may include objects whose places of origin range from the Venus-Earth region to the Kuiper Belt, outside the remote orbit of Neptune. Moreover, these local objects are relatively easy to reach using spacecraft, easier in some cases than the Moon. Thus, the principal scientific goals of asteroid studies are well matched to the population of readily accessible objects and the technology in hand. Near-Earth objects are significant from another perspective; many of their orbits cross the Earth’s and there is a non-zero probability of collision. This has been the subject of much media attention in recent days. Although catastrophic impacts of the type believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs are thought relatively rare, the existence of meteorites demonstrates that small bodies do continually impact the Earth. It is my understanding that NASA currently supports several small programs to detect and determine orbits for Earth-crossing objects. Although the probability of a disastrous impact in any given year is thought to be extremely small, there are good practical as well as scientific reasons for understanding this group of objects better than we do at present. Our Board has not addressed the issue of orbital debris; however, our sister NRC board, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, has published several informative reports on the subject (Orbital Debris: A Technical Assessment, 1995; Protecting the Space Station from Meteoroids and Orbital Debris, 1997). Clearly, with the value of systems placed in near-Earth space continuing to rise, including large piloted spacecraft, this is a topic of increasing urgency. Radar and telescopic observations, combined with in situ spacecraft studies suggest that the hazards posed to space-based assets by debris from human space activities are of greater concern than the steady-state threat posed by naturally occurring bodies. The problem of man-made debris is currently under international consideration by space-faring nations. OUTYEAR FUNDING OF MISSION OPERATIONS AND DATA ANALYSIS (MO&DA) ACCOUNT Since I am not involved in the detailed preparation of these budgets, while some of the other panelists are, I will confine myself to general remarks on this subject and try to convey the perspective of the community of science practitioners. The Space Studies Board currently has a task group analyzing content and trends in the related Research and Analysis (R&A) budget lines, and it is expected to devote some attention to MO&DA as well. But this study is not yet complete, so what follows are my own thoughts and observations on the subject. Like the R&A budgets, the constituents of the MO&DA line are a varied lot. As laid out in NASA’s Budget Estimates book, MO&DA supports satellite operations and scientific analysis of returned data during the prime and extended phases of active missions, as well as preflight preparations for these activities and long-term data archiving and access to the data. In addition, the line supports the development of new scientific instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope.
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 It is not easy or straightforward to compare and trade off costs among MO&DA categories. For example, from FY97 to FY98, the OSS total for MO&DA drops from $583,300,000 to 507,400,000, about 13 percent before inflation is taken into account. However, over half, or nearly $40,000,000 of this decline comes from a drop in “HST operations and servicing,” which includes funding for HST instrument development. Keeping this complexity in mind, it is possible to think about the non-HST MO&DA budgets as divided between operating spacecraft and interpreting data returned. I believe it is fair to say that most scientists endorse strong measures to reduce mission operations (MO) budgets, provided that three concerns are met: Spacecraft should continue to be operated as long as the data being returned are scientifically valuable and of high priority in their discipline; Reasonable provisions are made for the safety and continued viability of the spacecraft during this period; and Mission data operations are funded at a level that ensures the usability and accessibility of the data to investigators. Once these are met, scientists are more concerned with the adequacy of data analysis funds. Data analysis funds are allocated to investigators to carry out scientific research using the space data. Often these data must be combined with ground-based data, other space data, or interpreted with the aid of sophisticated computer models. The speculation is sometimes heard that perhaps NASA’s job should be limited simply to making observations in space, with the implication that their significance is readily apparent, at least to those with advanced technical training. However, scientific measurements by themselves have the same relationship to knowledge and understanding of the Universe that a walk down the aisle of a supermarket bears to a meal in a fine restaurant. The DA part of MO&DA supports the analytical process of extracting meaning from space data, often employing junior researchers and graduate students to help and thus enriching the intellectual capacities of our society. It is important to remember that a level budget means something close to a 20 percent decline in buying power over the next five years. The hope and expectation are that the efficiencies and new technologies of the faster-smaller-cheaper approach to space research will more than compensate for this decline. In other words, space research productivity must grow at least as fast as inflation. Ground mission operations, in particular, have been targeted for these improvements. But achieving this is still a major challenge for NASA as well as for industry and the university community. And some budget items will be resistant to productivity improvement, particularly those that are primarily intellectual, a category that would include R&A and data analysis. As Board member Anthony England stated to this subcommittee a few years ago, the R&A and MO&DA lines are where the science of NASA gets done, and while they are not the largest elements of NASA’s budget, they are the most highly leveraged in terms of payoff for the nation’s investment in space. BENEFITS OF RESEARCH IN SPACE Space research provides innumerable benefits that enhance the quality and character of life for the American public. A brief survey of our own reports reveals the following examples: Scientific discoveries: the primary product of space research is the results it returns in every discipline, from cosmology to life sciences, which cannot be achieved in any other way; Foreign policy: engineering, technology, and research achievements in space have been instruments of foreign policy and leadership; National security: solar and space physics, including the physics of the middle and upper atmosphere, which are linked to solar variability, can strongly affect defense (as well as civilian) capabilities in communication, navigation, and surveillance; Instrumentation: research activities in many fields, for example astronomy, contribute to and depend on development and application of sophisticated sensors, an essential technology for the defense, medical, and commercial sectors;
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 Earth applications: observations from orbit, such as multispectral imaging for mapping purposes, have demonstrated their value; synthetic aperture radar appears particularly suited to detecting and monitoring flooding (studies of long-term variations in the brightness of the Sun may help us understand climate variations); The impacts of communications satellites and of the Global Positioning System are everywhere; and Philosophy and culture: the advancement of human knowledge and understanding of the cosmos is a central intellectual and philosophical goal of humanity, as attested to by the enormous impact of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series, the recent discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the widespread excitement surrounding the finding of possible evidence for life on Mars. These discoveries excite the imagination of the public at large, and provide unique perspectives on the origin of life on Earth. Over the past four decades, space research has employed the energies of a large number of bright individuals and provided them with substantial resources to solve difficult technical problems; it should come as no surprise that the result has been a broad enrichment of the nation’s technical competence and technology inventory. Like TV and the telephone, the results of these innovations have merged with the landscape of modern life, so that they would be more conspicuous by their absence than they are by their presence. My personal belief is that the major benefit of space research is more profound but less tangible than these items might indicate. Space research began in part as a very visible demonstration of this nation’s vast technical and organizational capabilities, its capability to meet and surmount what appeared to be nearly impossible challenges, and its ability to compete successfully with our adversaries and to cooperate willingly with our friends. Raising both public consciousness and international recognition, space research stimulated and inspired a generation of schoolchildren, myself included, to pursue careers in science and engineering. That was the cold war of the 1950s and 1960s. Are the metaphors and lessons of space exploration and research any less important today than they were then? I think not. In the current era, rapid technological advances continue to invade every aspect of modern life, and peacetime success in global economic competition and cooperation is just as essential to our national well-being as the military competition and cooperation of that earlier time. LIFE AND MICROGRAVITY RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES IN THE SHUTTLE IN THE WAKE OF A STATION DELAY During its recent meeting in Washington on March 3–5, the Space Studies Board was briefed by NASA on assembly and provisions for utilization of the International Space Station. The station has been a subject of the Board’s attention since its first report on the project to Administrator James Beggs in 1982. It is the Board’s understanding that, of the space station’s $2.1 billion yearly program budget, a substantial share that had originally been intended for development of research facilities and outfitting is now being diverted to development of the vehicle itself. As a result of this diversion, key microgravity research facilities such as the furnace, combustion, and fluid science facilities that were to have been launched and put into operation in 2000 will now be delayed until 2002. Gravitational biology habitat facilities will slip from 1999 to 2001, and the life sciences centrifuge will be delayed until at least the end of 2002. As a result, most of this research equipment will not be available to investigators until approximately five years from today. NASA has planned only two more major shuttle laboratory science flights: MSL-1, now unfortunately cut short, and Neurolab in 1998, both Spacelab missions. Otherwise, life and microgravity science access to space will be limited to middeck lockers on the shuttle and in the Spacehab system. While the Board was informed that worthwhile experimentation can take place in lockers, it is recognized that these lockers cannot offer the range and capabilities of a dedicated Spacelab mission or of the outfitted space station itself. Thus, beyond the Spacelabs mentioned, there will be a sharp decline in flight research opportunities in microgravity and life sciences. Mr. Chairman, the space station represents a major share of the nation’s investment in space over the past decade or more, and NASA’s Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications has devoted years of careful planning and diligent management to developing an investigator community capable of making productive use of the space station’s unique research potential. The Board is very concerned that much of the momentum of this investment could be lost and that the orderly progression of experimentation in zero-g will be interrupted. The result of this would be a significant setback in researchers ability to take prompt advantage of the space station once it is fully operational for science.
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 After our Board meeting in early March, members have continued discussion on possible steps the agency could take to alleviate this problem. While a specific recommendation has not yet been formulated from these discussions, one class of solutions entails dedicating one or more shuttle flights for Spacelab science missions in the 1999–2000 time frame, even at the expense of slowing the pace of station assembly. Such an approach would not constitute a robust laboratory science flight program in the pre-station era, but it could help conserve the vitality of U.S. research in the affected areas and do much to accelerate our realizing the benefits of the space station investment once it is fully outfitted early in the next century. We hope to be able to provide NASA with a more specific recommendation shortly. Thank you for your attention; I would be happy to try to answer any questions you might have.
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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1997 6 Cumulative Bibliography The following list presents the reports of the Space Science (later Space Studies) Board (SSB) and its committees. The Board’s major reports have been published by the National Academy Press since 1981; prior to this, publication of major reports was carried out by the National Academy of Sciences. 1997 An Assessment of the Solar and Space Physics Aspects of NASA’s Space Science Enterprise Strategic Plan, SSB Committee on Solar and Space Physics with the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate’s Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research The Human Exploration of Space, SSB Committee on Human Exploration An Initial Review of Microgravity Research in Support of Human Exploration and Development of Space, SSB Committee on Microgravity Research Lessons Learned from the Clementine Mission, SSB Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, SSB Task Group on Issues in Sample Return A New Science Strategy for Space Astronomy and Astrophysics, SSB Task Group on Space Astronomy and Astrophysics Reducing the Costs of Space Science Research Missions: Proceedings of a Workshop, SSB and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board Joint Committee on Technology for Space Science and Applications Science Management in the Human Exploration of Space, SSB Committee on Human Exploration Scientific Assessment of NASA’s SMEX-MIDEX Space Physics Mission Selections, SSB Committee on Solar and Space Physics with the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate’s Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research Space Studies Board Annual Report—1996, Space Studies Board Space Weather: A Research Perspective, SSB Committee on Solar and Space Physics with the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate’s Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research “On Research Facilities Planning for the International Space Station,” letter from SSB Chair Claude R.Canizares, Committee on Space Biology and Medicine Chair Mary Jane Osborn, and Committee on Microgravity Research Former Chair Martin E.Glicksman to NASA Administrator Daniel S.Goldin (July 8) “On NASA’s Office of Space Science Draft Strategic Plan,” letter from SSB Chair Claude R.Canizares to Dr. Wesley T.Huntress, Jr., associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Space Science (August 27) 1996 Archiving Microgravity Flight Data and Samples, SSB Committee on Microgravity Research Assessment of Recent Changes in the Explorer Program, SSB Panel to Review the Explorer Program Radiation Hazards to Crews of Interplanetary Missions: Biological Issues and Research Strategies, SSB Task Group on Biological Effects of Space Radiation Review of NASA’s Planned Mars Program, SSB Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration Space Studies Board Annual Report—1995, Space Studies Board