Charter and Organization of the Board
THE FOUNDING CHARTER OF THE SPACE SCIENCE BOARD
The National Academy of Sciences was chartered by the Congress, under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln, to provide scientific and technical advice to the government of the United States. Over the years, the advisory program of the institution has expanded, leading in the course of time to the establishment of the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, and of the National Research Council (NRC), the operational arm of the Academies of Sciences and Engineering.
After the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the pace and scope of U.S. space activity were dramatically increased. Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct the nation’s ambitious space agenda, and the National Academy of Sciences created the Space Science Board. The original charter of the Board was established in June 1958, three months before final legislation creating NASA was enacted. The Space Science Board has provided external and independent scientific and programmatic advice to NASA on a continuous basis from NASA’s inception until the present.
The fundamental charter of the Board today remains that defined by National Academy of Sciences President Detlev W.Bronk in a letter to Lloyd V.Berkner, first chair of the Board, on June 26, 1958:
We have talked of the main task of the Board in three parts—the immediate program, the long-range program, and the international aspects of both. In all three we shall look to the Board to be the focus of the interests and responsibilities of the Academy-Research Council in space science; to establish necessary relationships with civilian science and with governmental science activities, particularly the proposed new space agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency; to represent the Academy-Research Council complex in our international relations in this field on behalf of American science and scientists; to seek ways to stimulate needed research; to promote necessary coordination of scientific effort; and to provide such advice and recommendations to appropriate individuals and agencies with regard to space science as may in the Board’s judgment be desirable.
As we have already agreed, the Board is intended to be an advisory, consultative, correlating, evaluating body and not an operating agency in the field of space science. It should avoid responsibility as a Board for the conduct of any programs of space research and for the formulation of budgets relative thereto. Advice to agencies properly responsible for these matters, on the other hand, would be within its purview to provide.
Thus, the Board exists to provide guidance to the federal government on space research and to help coordinate the nation’s undertakings in these areas. With the reconstitution of the Board in 1988 and 1989, it assumed similar responsibilities with respect to space applications. The Board also addresses scientific aspects of the nation’s program of human spaceflight.
THE 1988 REORGANIZATION OF THE BOARD—THE SPACE STUDIES BOARD
In 1988, the Space Science Board undertook a series of retreats to review its structure and charter. These retreats were motivated by the Board’s desire to update its structure and activities and by its assumption of a major portion of the responsibilities of the disestablished NRC Space Applications Board. As a result of these retreats, a number of new task groups and committees were formed, and several existing committees were disbanded and their portfolios distributed to other committees. In addition, since civilian space research involves federal agencies other than NASA (for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Departments of Energy and Defense, and the National Science Foundation (NSF)), it was decided to place an increased emphasis on broadening the Board’s advisory outreach.
The Board’s charter is implemented through four key functions: discipline oversight, interdisciplinary studies, international activities, and advisory outreach.
Oversight of Space Research Disciplines
The Board has responsibility for strategic planning and oversight in the basic subdisciplines of space research. This responsibility is discharged through a structure of standing discipline committees and includes preparation of strategic research plans and prioritization of objectives, as well as independent assessment of progress in these disciplines. The standard vehicle for providing long-term research guidance is the research strategy report, which has been used successfully by the Board and its committees over many years. In addition, committees periodically prepare formal assessment reports that examine progress in their disciplines in comparison with published Board advice. From time to time, in response to a sponsor or Board request or to circumstances requiring prompt and focused comment, a committee may prepare and submit a short, or “letter,” report. Agency requests for broader space policy or organizational guidance are addressed by suitable ad hoc organizational arrangements and appropriate final documentation. Other special agency requests that require responses synchronized with the federal budget cycle are relayed to standing committees for action or are taken up by ad hoc task groups. All committee reports undergo Board and NRC review and approval prior to publication and are issued formally as reports of the NRC and the Board.
Individual discipline committees may be called upon by the Board to prepare specialized material for use by either the Board or its interdisciplinary committees or task groups.
Although the emphasis over the years has been on discipline planning and evaluation, the reorganization of the Board recognized a need for cross-cutting technical and policy studies in several important areas. To accomplish these objectives, the Board creates internal committees and ad hoc task groups. Internal committees, constituted entirely of appointed Board members, are formed to conduct short-duration studies or to lay the planning groundwork for subsequent formation of a regular committee or task group. Task groups resemble standing discipline committees in structure and operation, except that they have predefined lifetimes, typically one to three years, and more narrowly bounded charters. The Board also organizes topical workshops and exercises the NRC’s convening function in other special activities.
International Representation and Cooperation
The Board continues to serve as the U.S. National Committee for the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). In this capacity, the Board participates in a broad variety of COSPAR panels and committees. The Board continues as the U.S. National Committee, and a member of the Board’s staff serves as executive secretary for this office.
As the economic and political integration of Europe evolves, so also does the integration of Europe’s space activities. The Board has successfully collaborated with the European space research community on a number of ad
hoc joint studies and is continuing to broaden its advisory relationship with this community. The Board has established a regular practice of exchanging observers with the European Space Science Committee (ESSC), an entity of the European Science Foundation, and is currently conducting a collaborative study with this group. Strengthening contacts with the Japanese and Russian programs is expected to assume augmented priority as contacts with European research mature.
The Space Science Board was conceived to provide space research guidance across the federal government. Over the years, the Board’s agenda and funding have focused on NASA’s space science program. Since the Board’s reorganization, however, several influences have acted to expand the breadth of the Board’s purview, both within NASA and outside it.
First, the incorporation of scientific objectives into manned flight programs such as the shuttle and space station dictate Board interest and involvement in these programs. In the spaceflight and technology areas, the Board conducts joint activities with the NRC’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Contacts have been made with NASA’s international affairs and commercial programs offices.
Second, the assumption of space applications responsibilities from the dissolved NRC Space Applications Board has implied a broadening of the sponsorship base to NOAA, with its responsibilities for operational weather satellites. NOAA has been a cosponsor of the Board’s Committee on Earth Studies and its work in the Earth observations area since 1991.
Third, the maturation of some of the physical sciences has led to progressive integration of space and nonspace elements, suggesting a more highly integrated advisory structure. One example is the solar-terrestrial community, where the Board’s Committee on Solar and Space Physics has operated for several years in a “federated” arrangement with the NRC Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research. Another example is astronomy, where the Board operates a Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics as a joint committee of the Space Studies Board and the Board on Physics and Astronomy. The life sciences are assuming increasing importance at NASA, and another area of possible future disciplinary association is with the National Institutes of Health and corresponding NRC entities.
With the end of the Cold War, new participants will become involved in areas of space research previously exclusively civilian. Since 1993, the Board has undertaken study work for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization on the Clementine missions and for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) on possible scientific uses of a large new technology orbital telescope. The Board is currently discussing a BMDO study on the proposed Clementine II project.
The Board conducts its business principally during regularly scheduled meetings of its own membership and of its supporting committees and other activities. These include the internal committees of the Board, standing committees, ad hoc task groups, and workshops and special activities. The organization of the Board and its panels during 1996 is illustrated in the Figure 1.
The Space Studies Board
The Space Studies Board is composed of 20 to 24 prominent scientists, engineers, industrialists, scholars, and policy experts in space research, appointed for staggered terms of one to three years. The Board meets three or four times per year to review the activities of its committees and task groups and to be briefed on and discuss major space policy issues. The Board is constituted in such a way as to include as members its committees’ chairs; other Board members serve on internal committees of the Board or perform other special functions as designated by the Board chair. The Board seats, as ex officio members, the chairs of the NRC Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, the NRC Naval Studies Board’s Space Panel, and the NRC Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research. A standing liaison arrangement has also been established with the chair of the European Science Foundation’s European Space Science Committee.
In general, the Board develops and documents its views by means of appointed standing committees or interdisciplinary task groups that conduct studies and submit their findings for Board and NRC approval and dissemination. These committees or task groups may collaborate with other NRC boards or committees in order to leverage existing specialized capabilities within the NRC organization. Meetings in a workshop format are also used. On occasion, the Board itself deliberates cross-cutting issues and prepares its own statements and positions. These mechanisms are used to prepare and release findings and recommendations either in response to a government request or on the Board’s own initiative. In addition, the Board comments, based on its publicly established opinions, in testimony to Congress.
Internal Committees of the Board
Internal committees facilitate the conduct of the Board’s business, carry out the Board’s own advisory projects, and permit the Board to move rapidly to lay the groundwork for new study activities. Internal committees are composed entirely of Board members. The only internal committee active during 1996 was the Executive Committee of the Board (XCOM). Members of internal committees generally serve for one to two years and then are rotated for replacement by other Board members.
Standing discipline committees have formed the backbone of the Board for many years and are the means by which the Board conducts its oversight of space research disciplines. Each discipline committee is composed of 10 to 16 specialists, appointed to represent the broad sweep of research areas within the discipline. In addition to
developing long-range research strategies and formal program and progress assessments in terms of these strategies, these standing committees perform analysis tasks in support of interdisciplinary task groups and committees or in response to other requirements assigned by the Board.
In addition to the standing discipline committees, three former internal committees now operate as standing, cross-disciplinary committees. These are the Committee on Human Exploration, the Committee on International Programs, and the Joint Committee on Technology.
In 1996, there were a total of nine standing committees, including six discipline committees:
Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA)
Committee on Earth Studies (CES)
Committee on Human Exploration (CHEX)
Committee on International Programs (CIP)
Committee on Microgravity Research (CMGR)
Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX)
Committee on Space Biology and Medicine (CSBM)
Committee on Solar and Space Physics (CSSP)
Joint Committee on Technology (JCT)
Activities of the former Committee on Space Astronomy and Astrophysics were terminated in 1989 when the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee began its work. A new Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics was established in 1992 and tasked with resuming oversight of NASA’s space astronomy program. The CAA is operated jointly with the NRC Board on Physics and Astronomy, for which it performs oversight of ground-based research programs under sponsorship from the NSF.
The CSSP continued to operate in a “federated” arrangement with another NRC committee, the Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. Although the two committees retain their separate identities and reporting relationships to their parent boards, they continue to meet jointly, submitting study results to whichever of the respective boards sponsors a given activity.
The JCT is composed of members of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, augmented when appropriate by additional appointments as dictated by ongoing projects.
Ad hoc task groups are created by Board action with NRC approval. During 1996, the Board operated five task groups engaged in studies on a range of subjects.
Formed as a panel of the CSBM, the Task Group on Biological Effects of Space Radiation (TGBESR) completed a technical survey on research needing to be done in advance of a program of prolonged human spaceflight outside the Earth’s magnetosphere. This subject was addressed at a summary level in an earlier CHEX report, Scientific Prerequisites for the Human Exploration of Space (1993). A separate report was issued by the task group during December 1996, and the findings will also be incorporated into the major life sciences research strategy currently being assembled by the CSBM.
In 1992, the Board published the report Biological Contamination of Mars: Issues and Recommendations. As NASA planning for a Mars sample return mission has progressed, the agency asked the Board for guidance on the possibility of reverse contamination of the Earth and possible counter-measures. In response to this request, the Board formed a Task Group on Issues in Sample Return (TGISR) to address these questions. The final report will be issued in early 1997.
NASA’s Office of Space Science maintains a five-year strategic plan that it updates every three years. Since the next update is scheduled for the summer of 1997, the agency requested that the Board carry out a wide-ranging reassessment of science goals laid out in the 1991 astronomy and astrophysics decennial survey. Working through the CAA, the Board established a steering group and four subdisciplinary panels to carry out the necessary assessment of current status and opportunities for space astronomy. This Task Group on Space Astronomy and Astrophysics (TGSAA) will present its report to NASA at the end of the first quarter of 1997 for use in the summer strategic planning exercise.
Responding to widespread dissatisfaction about the processes and procedure of a selection in 1995 in its Mid-size Explorer (MIDEX) line, the Office of Space Science requested that the Board conduct an independent review of the history of that selection plus current planning to eliminate the perceived problems for the next round of selections. In response, the Board set up the Panel to Review the Explorer Program (PREP), which held a single meeting during September 1996 and delivered its final report three months later.
The subject of NASA’s Research and Analysis (R&A) budget line has been a difficult one for many years. Occasionally raided in the past to make up shortfalls in flight program funding, these budgets and their function of funding supporting research have not been well understood outside the research community and program management at NASA. Desiring to document the many vital functions supported by these budgets, the Board established a Task Group on Research and Analysis Programs (TGRAP) in mid-1996 to carry out the necessary analysis. The final report of the task group is expected in late 1997 or early 1998.
Workshops and Special Projects
In addition to its traditional function of managing deliberative committee studies on technical and policy issues, the National Research Council also exercises a broad convening function for facilitating the exchange of views and information among researchers and government policymakers. These activities are generally single events and may result in either unreviewed proceedings or formal NRC-reviewed findings.
Acting on a request by NASA for assistance in conducting an expedited and broadly based workshop on research status and opportunities in “Origins,” the Board worked closely with the Office of Space Science and its Space Science Advisory Committee to mount a three-day workshop in late October. The result was a package consisting of presentation charts and a supporting discussion paper that were used in December to brief Vice President Al Gore during a meeting with him and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology John H. Gibbons.