1

Introduction

The 1991 National Research Council (NRC) report The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1991; hereinafter referred to simply as the 1991 Decadal Report) noted that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was becoming the dominant agency in astronomy research grant funding. In 1982, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided about 60 percent of the federal support for individual grants. By the end of the decade, NASA was providing more money for individual astronomy research grants than NSF, a trend that continued into the 1990s with the guest observer programs for the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, ROSAT (Germany's Röentgen Satellite), and other NASA missions. NSF funding has remained relatively flat in real dollars, despite the pressures of new facilities, growth in both the astronomical community and public interest in astronomy, and the opening of new astronomical frontiers.

This change in the basic way astronomical research is funded, as well as changing demographics, may profoundly affect the way astronomy is carried out today. NASA is generally a mission-oriented agency, whereas NSF's primary goal is to fund basic research. Despite NASA 's mission orientation, the support for observations and related theory on both ground-based and satellite observatories under NASA sponsorship is primarily science driven and parallels (and now exceeds) NSF' s funding of basic research in astronomy. Science also progresses at different rates in different areas as technology changes, key new discoveries are made, and new areas of research open up.

As we enter the 21st century, there is concern that the way in which astronomical research is now funded may negatively affect the health of the field. In particular, concerns have been raised that some crucial subfields of astronomy are being underfunded. In parallel, there has been significant growth in ground-based facilities but a lack of growth in instrumentation and operations funding, which leads to the concern that, without better support for new facilities, the United States may lose its commanding leadership position in astronomy and astrophysics. In connection with the effort reflected in the recently released 2000 decadal survey, 1 it is important to understand how the field of astronomy has changed in the past decade as a result of changes in the sources of funding and the availability of new, large telescopes.

This report was commissioned by NSF and NASA, as directed in the fiscal year (FY) 1997 House Authorization report language, to present available information on the three key questions stated in the Preface and summarized as follows:

  1. What have been the trends in support for basic research in astronomy?

  2. Has basic research support kept pace with the development of new facilities in NASA and NSF, and is the balance of support across subdisciplines appropriate?

  3. Is the field or any major subfield vulnerable to a catastrophic failure, such as the loss of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)?

1  

National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000, forthcoming.



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 4
FEDERAL FUNDING OF ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH 1 Introduction The 1991 National Research Council (NRC) report The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1991; hereinafter referred to simply as the 1991 Decadal Report) noted that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was becoming the dominant agency in astronomy research grant funding. In 1982, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided about 60 percent of the federal support for individual grants. By the end of the decade, NASA was providing more money for individual astronomy research grants than NSF, a trend that continued into the 1990s with the guest observer programs for the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, ROSAT (Germany's Röentgen Satellite), and other NASA missions. NSF funding has remained relatively flat in real dollars, despite the pressures of new facilities, growth in both the astronomical community and public interest in astronomy, and the opening of new astronomical frontiers. This change in the basic way astronomical research is funded, as well as changing demographics, may profoundly affect the way astronomy is carried out today. NASA is generally a mission-oriented agency, whereas NSF's primary goal is to fund basic research. Despite NASA 's mission orientation, the support for observations and related theory on both ground-based and satellite observatories under NASA sponsorship is primarily science driven and parallels (and now exceeds) NSF' s funding of basic research in astronomy. Science also progresses at different rates in different areas as technology changes, key new discoveries are made, and new areas of research open up. As we enter the 21st century, there is concern that the way in which astronomical research is now funded may negatively affect the health of the field. In particular, concerns have been raised that some crucial subfields of astronomy are being underfunded. In parallel, there has been significant growth in ground-based facilities but a lack of growth in instrumentation and operations funding, which leads to the concern that, without better support for new facilities, the United States may lose its commanding leadership position in astronomy and astrophysics. In connection with the effort reflected in the recently released 2000 decadal survey, 1 it is important to understand how the field of astronomy has changed in the past decade as a result of changes in the sources of funding and the availability of new, large telescopes. This report was commissioned by NSF and NASA, as directed in the fiscal year (FY) 1997 House Authorization report language, to present available information on the three key questions stated in the Preface and summarized as follows: What have been the trends in support for basic research in astronomy? Has basic research support kept pace with the development of new facilities in NASA and NSF, and is the balance of support across subdisciplines appropriate? Is the field or any major subfield vulnerable to a catastrophic failure, such as the loss of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)? 1   National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000, forthcoming.

OCR for page 4
FEDERAL FUNDING OF ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH In this report, the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) examines the trends in grant funding, number of proposals received, number funded, average grant size, publication rates, and other measures of the health of basic research in astronomy. It compares these trends to information on field demographics, such as the number of astronomers and the fraction of active research astronomers working in several fields and disciplines. Its objective is not to evaluate the appropriateness of the overall funding level for astronomy, but rather to assess the balance of current funding and identify any vulnerabilities that may affect the future health of the field. The committee draws some basic conclusions about research support and examines the effects that the failure of HST or another major space mission would have on the field. Recommendations and priorities for federal funding of astronomy are presented in the 2000 decadal survey prepared by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee (AASC). In the process of preparing this report, the committee gathered data on the research budgets of several federal agencies and learned a great deal about how the data are recorded and reported. Although it is only peripheral to the committee's primary charge, this report discusses means to improve the tracking of astronomy research expenditures at NSF and NASA. To provide a context and perspective for interpreting the findings of this report, Chapter 2 begins with an update of the funding trends discussed in the 1991 Decadal Report. Chapter 3 discusses the process and methodology of the study. Chapter 4 addresses the question of changing demographics in the field. Chapter 5 provides a more detailed discussion of the major sources of funding for astronomy. In Chapter 6 the committee summarizes and discusses implications of the results of its study and in Chapter 7 presents its principal findings. Two sets of questions from the FY 1998 House Authorization bill that were included in the charge to the AASC are not addressed in this report: Have NASA and NSF mission objectives resulted in a balanced, broad-based, robust science program for astronomy? NASA's mission is to fund research that supports flight programs and campaigns such as Origins, whereas NSF's mission is to support basic research. Have these overall missions been adequately coordinated, and has this resulted in an optimum science program from the standpoint of productivity? The Panel on Astronomy Education and Policy should ensure that agency strategic plans or other plans developed in response to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) adequately address these needs. How do NASA and NSF determine the relative priority of new technological opportunities (including new facilities) compared to providing long-term support for associated research grants and facility operations?