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FEDERAL FUNDING OF ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH
FIGURE 2.4 NSF astronomy research grants program. Filled squares show the average grant size (right-hand scale), which has been decreasing in 1997 dollars. Open diamonds show the number of grants funded annually, which has risen. (See Section 5.1.4 for further analysis of the NSF grants program.) SOURCE: 1991 Decadal Report (1981-1987), NSF (1988-1997).
Figure 2.4 is an update of Figure B.4 of the 1991 Decadal Report and provides a more detailed view of the trends in grant funding. The 1991 Decadal Report documented the disturbing trend of a decrease (by 50 percent) in the average NSF grant size. Since 1990, the average grant size appears to have stabilized. The 1991 Decadal Report made the further observation that the size of the average grant had dropped below the critical size required for support of a faculty summer salary plus a graduate student and travel. The consequence was that scientists often had to seek support from multiple grants, with a resultant increase in overhead for preparing, reviewing, and managing a larger number of smaller proposals. In the 1990s, astronomers appeared to turn increasingly toward NASA as a new source of funding to offset the dwindling size of NSF research grants.
Support from NASA
The 1991 Decadal Report stated clearly, “NASA is becoming the dominant agency in astronomy grant funding. In 1982, NSF provided about 60 percent of the federal support for individual grants” (p. 156). However, by the end of the 1980s, NASA had provided more grant money than had NSF, and the 1991 Decadal Report stated that “in the 1990s, NASA's grant support for data analysis is expected to increase even more.” This prediction was indeed correct. From 1989 to 1999, NASA's grant funding for astronomy increased by about a factor of two in constant dollars. During the same time, grant and