The first session at the workshop was dedicated to contrasting personal perspectives on the purpose and role of the decadal surveys in the Earth and space science disciplines as tools for strategic planning at NASA. The first perspective was given by Lennard A. Fisk, the Thomas Donahue Distinguished University Professor of Space Science at the University of Michigan and past associate administrator of NASA’s former Office of Space Science and Applications. Fisk presents a historical view of the development of the decadal studies from his perspective as both a contributor to and implementer of recommendations contained in survey reports. John Grunsfeld, the current associate administrator of NASA SMD, discusses the challenges of interpreting and implementing decadal survey recommendations in today’s scientific and fiscal environment.
Lennard Fisk opened the keynote session by presenting an historical perspective on the decadal survey process. Noting that an important measure of the success of the surveys is whether programs and missions recommended by the surveys are ultimately implemented, Fisk traced parallel histories of the development of National Research Council (NRC) advice and NASA’s evolving response to the advice. Anticipating his conclusions, he warned the audience that the story for recent times is not an especially positive one.
Following the establishment of the Space Science Board in 1958 (which would later be merged with the Space Applications Board in 1989 to form the Space Studies Board), the SSB published the first space science strategy document in 1961 as a comprehensive collection of reports entitled Science in Space.1 The SSB considered itself responsible for determining what science would be pursued in space, but NASA felt otherwise. While the final responsibility for selection of science experiments fell to NASA instead of the SSB, the NRC did retain a strategic role: to recommend what science should be done. Fisk emphasized, “The NASA science program was to be conducted on behalf of all the nation’s space scientists.” In response to a question later in the workshop, he elaborated to explain that while the space program is conducted on behalf of the nation as a whole, it is the role of the science community to decide what science is to be done.
The first formal decadal survey, which involved broad scientific community input, addressed ground-based astronomy2 and was issued in 1964 by the NRC Committee on Science and Public Policy. Subsequent NRC surveys in astronomy appeared in 19723 (including a recommendation for the High Energy Astrophysics Observatory) and 19794 (including recommendations for the Great Observatory
2 NAS, Ground-Based Astronomy: A Ten-Year Program, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1964, available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/BPA_048094#1964.
3 NAS, Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1972, available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/BPA_048094#1972.
4 National Research Council (NRC), A Strategy for Space Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1980s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1979.
program of major optical and infrared, x-ray, and gamma ray observatories). All of the recommended major space astronomy missions were ultimately built and launched, albeit at later dates than the surveys envisioned.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the SSB prepared a series of planning documents across a wide range of space science fields. During the same time, NASA began to establish its own network of internal advisory bodies that provided advice to space science program managers, discipline division directors, and the science associate administrator. Thus, these NASA committees enabled the scientific community to be thoroughly involved in the execution of the program and to contribute to a flow of information from the scientific community up and down the NASA management chain.
Fisk described a key milestone for NASA’s science budgets at the time of the initiation of the space station program in 1984 when NASA Administrator James Beggs wrote to SSB Chair Thomas Donahue saying that NASA was “willing … to commit to budgeting 20 percent of NASA R&D funds for space science and applications, and [to] protect these funds from Space Station development.” One important consequence of that commitment was that the NASA headquarters Office of Space Science and Applications (OSSA) had ample resources to manage its program and to set its own course. Thanks, at least in part to the Beggs-Donahue agreement, when the NASA budget doubled from 1988 to 1991, so did the science budget. Consequently, Fisk noted, there was a fertile environment for strategic planning when he became the associate administrator in 1987. In parallel with OSSA’s efforts in strategic planning, and with NASA’s encouragement, in 1989 the NRC consolidated the SSB and the Space Applications Board so as to form the Space Studies Board, thereby creating a single NRC entity to advise OSSA.
The fourth astronomy decadal survey, published in 1991,5 endorsed the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) as the fourth of the Great Observatories. However NASA’s period of budget growth was coming to an end, and so SIRTF faced descoping and an extended delay before becoming a reality.
Fisk indicated that the early 1990s marked the onset of a new era in NASA management approaches to science programs. Daniel Goldin became NASA administrator in 1992 and broke OSSA into three separate science offices, transferring increased program management responsibility to the NASA field centers, reducing headquarters staff, and emphasizing smaller and faster mission classes. According to Fisk, cost growth problems in the space station program also led to greater oversight into all NASA programs by the Office of Management and Budget in the late 1990s. Goldin was succeeded by Sean O’Keefe in 2000, and after the space shuttle Columbia accident, NASA priorities were heavily influenced by President George W. Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration (VSE).6 Consequently, Mars exploration was accorded an especially high priority while studies of Earth, the Sun, and astrophysics were relegated to a category of activities not directly aligned with the VSE and referred to as “other science.”
The next astronomy decadal survey, published in 2001,7 recommended a balanced program of small-to-large mission sizes and endorsed the Next Generation Space Telescope (now called the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST), but subsequent growth in the JWST program imperiled the recommended balance. An important milestone for the decadal survey process was the development of the first surveys for planetary science and for solar and space physics in 2003.
In 2004 Michael Griffin succeeded O’Keefe as NASA administrator. Fisk noted that Griffin abolished most of NASA’s internal advisory committee structure and also espoused a different view of NASA-science community relationships than had been accepted in the past. Namely, Griffin considered the scientific community to be analogous to the aerospace contractor community, and he described the former as “suppliers, not customers.” Thus, the tradition of viewing scientists as customers who determine what science is to be pursued was turned on its head, thereby also altering the perspective from
5 NRC, The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1991.
6 NASA, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, Washington, D.C., 2004.
7 NRC, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, The National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.
which NRC advice could be offered. Griffin did attempt to rebalance the science budgets, but in simultaneously coping with space shuttle and space station cost issues, some $3 billion were removed from the run-out of science budgets, with especially damaging effects in Earth science. Fisk indicated that NASA’s internal advisory committee process has not been restored since Charles Bolden succeeded Griffin as administrator in 2009.
The NRC completed the first decadal survey for Earth science and applications from space in 2007.8 Given the urgency of needs in the program at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the survey committee also published an interim report in 2005.9 Fisk noted that the Obama administration and Congress responded with budget increases, but cost growth in both NASA and NOAA missions continued to present obstacles to fully implementing the survey recommendations.
Fisk described the most recent surveys in astronomy and astrophysics10 (2010) and planetary science11 (2011) as being handicapped by budgetary issues. Continuing development costs for JWST have prevented initiation of new missions recommended by the former survey, and budget constraints are preventing initiation of any flagship-class missions recommended by the latter survey. Fisk also observed that while the 2013 survey for solar and space physics12 is too new for its success to be measured, its prospects may be better because the survey committee took a minimalist approach to the recommended program.
In drawing conclusions from his historical assessment of decadal surveys, Fisk emphasized that two governing principles that have been in place since the beginning—the NRC does the strategic planning, and the NASA science program is conducted on behalf of all the nation’s scientists—remain timely and important. He observed that these principles were respected and effective during NASA’s first 35 years but have been threatened, and even disavowed, during the past two decades. Fisk posed and answered two rhetorical questions, “Should we abandon our decadal process? Certainly not! Should we try and adapt the decadal process for today’s reality? Absolutely!”
John Grunsfeld offered a NASA perspective on decadal surveys by noting some of the challenges that confront the effort. A major question is, How do the surveys help NASA to navigate an uncertain future and engage the interest and support of the general public in the process? Surveys need to take some risks. Furthermore, we need to recognize that there will be serendipitous discoveries that survey committees cannot anticipate as well as unexpected budgetary and policy developments that can override the surveys. Grunsfeld emphasized that surveys must do much more than just present science priorities; they must provide a compelling science narrative that communicates the importance and value of the science.
Grunsfeld concluded his discussion by providing a set of questions for the workshop to address:
• Who are the primary users of surveys, and what is the full list of stakeholders?
• What can surveys do to aid NASA in supporting a vital program in the future?
• What can surveys do to help implement a balanced program over a decade and provide NASA with needed flexibility?
8 NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
9 NRC, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005.
10 NRC, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2010.
11 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
12 NRC, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
• How much should surveys do to help address priorities across disciplines as well as within disciplines?
• How can surveys integrate systems science across topical themes?
• How can surveys more fully integrate science across human spaceflight?
• How can surveys foster innovation so as to match scientific needs with new technologies?
• How can surveys engage new partners, and how can surveys improve coordination of planning in other countries?
To offer a broader context for the workshop’s consideration of decadal surveys for space and Earth science, Grunsfeld emphasized that science is important for the nation and the world. Thus, the surveys are needed to help lay a foundation for a bright future.