The Space Studies Board
The Space Studies Board (SSB) is one of the many legacies of the IGY. Originally named the Space Science Board, it was established on June 26, 1958 within the National Academy of Sciences to advise federal agencies on U.S. rocket and satellite research. Dr. Lloyd Berkner, who led efforts to establish the IGY, was the first chair of the SSB.
The impetus for creating the SSB was to enable the nation’s top scientists to advise the government on the scientific potential of artificial satellites following the first satellite launches during the IGY. In 1958, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the act that created NASA, the SSB was already in place to serve as a bridge between the government and the far-flung, largely university-based scientific research enterprise.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) itself was created in 1863 by a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln. One of its major functions is to provide advice to the government on scientific issues. In 1916, the NAS created the National Research Council (NRC) to manage the increasing number of studies that were being requested. In 1964, the NAS created the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and in 1970 the Institute of Medicine (IOM), to focus attention on those specialties as well. These three institutions, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine are honorific societies to which individuals are elected because they are distinguished in their fields. Among other tasks, the government turns to these Academies and their distinguished members to help determine scientific priorities for federally-funded research. The NRC is administered through a Governing Board composed of the Presidents and other members of the NAS, NAE and IOM. The NRC is currently organized into about 60 boards that are each focused on a particular topic or discipline.
The Space Studies Board provides an independent, authoritative forum for information and advice on all aspects of space research and applications, and serves as the focal point within the National Academies for activities related to space research. In carrying out these tasks it oversees advisory studies and program assessments and promotes communications on space science and science policy between the research community, the federal government, and the interested public. The SSB also serves as the U.S. National Committee for the International Council for Science’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Several other boards in the Academies also deal with space program issues, including the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. These boards work closely together.
The SSB has five standing committees: the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Committee on Earth Studies, the Committee on the Origin and Evolution of Life, the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, and the Committee on Solar and Space Physics. These committees and the Board itself provide strategic direction for the Board’s activities and serve as a bridge between their communities and the government. Studies are conducted by specially created “ad hoc” study committees whose membership is tailored to the topic of the study. All members of the
Board, the standing committees and study committees are volunteers who serve without compensation. The SSB is very grateful to its volunteers, many of whom were involved in the seminar series.
Consensus-based priority-setting is one of the major tasks of the SSB. There is much research to be done in the space science disciplines, but only a finite amount of money. How does an agency like NASA determine what is the next most important research project to pursue? Is it more important to send a spacecraft to further study Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Titan to determine if life could exist in either environment; To build a space telescope to further study the universe in a particular wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum (infrared, x-ray, gamma ray) or to search for gravitational waves left over from the Big Bang; To solve the riddle of dark energy or of dark matter; To measure carbon in the atmosphere or ocean color? NASA turns to the SSB to convene the top experts in the country to independently and objectively provide consensus recommendations on what are the top priorities.
The SSB performs studies on a wide range of space research issues, but its signature product is the “decadal survey.” These studies are performed about once every 10 years (a decade) looking forward to the next 10 years in each of the space science disciplines—astronomy and astrophysics (which also prioritizes ground-based research in this field and is done in conjunction with the NRC’s Board on Physics and Astronomy), earth science and applications from space, microgravity biological and physical science, planetary science, and solar and space physics (“heliophysics”).
All of the reports that have been generated over the past 50 years of the SSB’s existence, including the decadal surveys, are available through the SSB’s web site (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb) and on a DVD that is available by contacting the SSB (email@example.com).
The Space Studies Board was created in 1958 and so, like the International Geophysical Year, is celebrating its 50th birthday. Through the seminar series that led to the production of this book, it sought to engage with the public and the scientific community to talk about the achievements of the past 50 years and look forward to the next 50 years of exciting discoveries that await us.
The SSB would like to thank the extremely distinguished individuals who participated in the panel discussions and presented fascinating lectures at our events. Very special thanks go to Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, former chair of the SSB and chair of the seminar series for his leadership and guidance and the sacrifices he made to ensure that he could participate in every event. Extra special thanks go to the SSB staff who worked tirelessly on the series. While almost everyone on the SSB staff participated at various times, the key individuals without whom the series could not have been accomplished are Ian Pryke, project director; Diana Alexander, event coordinator; Victoria Swisher, research associate; Tanja Pilzak, administrative coordinator; Christina Shipman, financial officer; Carmela Chamberlain, program associate; Celeste Naylor, senior program assistant; Joe Alexander, senior program officer; and Barbara Akinwole, information resource manager. Finally, we would like to thank Harvey Meyerson who was the inspiration for this seminar series and its first project director. As an aide to the late Senator Spark Matsunaga, Dr. Meyerson championed international cooperation in space and established the International Space Year in 1992 to celebrate 35 years of space exploration. His idea that the 50th anniversary of the IGY similarly was worth celebrating was the catalyst for what became this seminar series.
We hope that you enjoy the lectures presented in this book.
Marcia S. Smith
Director, Space Studies Board
March 2006–February 2009