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FEDERAL FUNDING OF ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH
support has not been adequate to exploit the dramatic scientific discoveries of the last decade or to pursue the opportunities made available by the explosion in scientific capabilities. For instance, the number and scope of ground-based facilities have grown with the development and construction of large, private and state-funded ground-based telescopes and with NSF initiatives that include the GBT, the Gemini telescopes, the Arecibo telescope upgrade, and ALMA/MMA. Yet funding for instrumentation, theory, and observer grants at NSF has not kept pace with support for construction. Facility instrumentation for major new telescopes is a clear need for the foreseeable future in response to the leaps in technical capabilities and the large increase in telescope collecting area. Training of instrumentalists is also an outstanding need, for both ground-based and space-based facilities.
Finding 4. As a result of NASA's increased role in astronomical research funding, a large portionof the total support is tied to a few flagship space missions.
NASA is a mission agency, and its program is strongly focused on initiating and launching space-based instruments. Funding for operations and research accompanies each mission. This paradigm has been extremely effective in maximizing the scientific return from these missions. However, the worrisome corollary of this arrangement is the potential for premature termination of the research support associated with a mission in the event of a catastrophic mission failure. Although NASA has a strategic planning process that is quite effective in engineering smooth transitions from one mission to another, there appears to be little explicit planning for unexpected or premature mission termination.
In the event of failure of a centerpiece astronomical research mission in space at a time when follow-on missions remain far in the future, there is a potential for a major impact on astronomical research. The impact would follow not only from the loss of a major observational tool, but also from the premature termination of the stream of research data and the flow of funds to analyze the data. Because analyzing the data from such major missions occupies a significant fraction of the astronomy and astrophysics research community, the personnel impact could be substantial, which could in turn dampen the community 's ability to help plan for, and utilize, future missions. For example, the HST grants program accounts for roughly 25 percent of all individual investigator funding in astronomy. It supports researchers at all levels, including students and postdoctoral fellows. The additional loss of jobs directly associated with STScI and GSFC resulting from an HST failure would be substantial, not to mention the loss of a primary scientific capability. Recovery of the scientific personnel complement and the nation's astronomical research capability from such a catastrophe would be slow.
Most important is that a significant fraction of the support for the youngest members of the field comes from such missions. The impact on the youngest astronomers, such as those supported by CGRO, Hubble, and Chandra fellowships and those supported by the R&A funds for such missions, would be disproportionately large and would significantly affect the future of the field.
Based on the results of this study, the committee suggests that the following proposition be considered in future assessments of the field: plans for future facility construction, both ground based and space based, should be accompanied by a strategy to accomplish the scientific mission, including provision of instrumentation for ground-based telescopes, support for observations, and funds for the necessary and relevant astrophysical theory. The strategy should include contingencies for ensuring the continuity of research in critical subfields in the event that major facilities are lost or significantly delayed. It should also include sufficient funding for the training of instrumentalists and for the development of new instrumentation for both space- and ground-based observations. It is necessary to balance the spending on hardware and research personnel, and to keep the mix of people suitable to the directions of growth in the field. The overall goal of both NSF and NASA for astronomy must be to maximize the scientific return by making investments in a balanced program.
Better and more stable accounting and record-keeping processes would enable long-term demographic and policy studies and would also facilitate coordinated stewardship of astronomy and