Space Studies Board
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
The Space Studies Board is a unit of the National Research Council, which serves as an independent advisor to the federal government on scientific and technical questions of national importance. The National Research Council, jointly administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, brings the resources of the entire scientific and technical community to bear through its volunteer advisory committees.
Support for the work of the Space Studies Board and its committees in 2014 was provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration contracts NNH10CC48B and NNH11CD57B; National Science Foundation grants AST-1215008 and AGS-1245566; U.S. Geological Survey grant G11AP20217; and U.S. Air Force grant UAF 13-0063.
Cover: The Hubble Space Telescope revisited the Eagle Nebula to capture an updated image of the Pillars of Creation, originally imaged by Hubble in 1995. This year, 2014, was the 25th year of operations for Hubble leading up to its anniversary in April 2015. Nebula image courtesy of NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.
The past year has been an exciting time for the Space Studies Board (SSB). It has been my pleasure and an honor to succeed Charlie Kennel as SSB Chair and to work with the SSB members along with Board Director Michael Moloney and the other members of the National Research Council (NRC) SSB staff. Some of the year’s accomplishments are highlighted below.
The Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space
Following the release of the first-ever decadal survey in the field of microgravity research, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era (2011), the Space Studies Board welcomed a new standing committee, the Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space (CBPSS). Chaired by Elizabeth Cantwell and Robert Ferl, this committee has the broad charge of providing advice for space studies in topics ranging from microbial and plant biology, animal and human physiology, and basic and applied physical sciences, in the context of understanding the role of gravity in living and physical systems in order to develop capabilities required for space exploration, and using the space environment as a tool of science to advance knowledge. With the limited lifetime of the International Space Station, this committee has the challenge of assisting NASA in maximizing the scientific return from station.
Pathways to Exploration
Under the leadership of Jonathan Lunine and Mitch Daniels, the Committee on Human Spaceflight completed one of the most challenging studies undertaken by the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. In Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Exploration, a diverse committee of experts tackled not only the question, How should humans explore space?, but the even more challenging question, Why should humans explore space?
The committee identified a pair of enduring questions that motivate human spaceflight: How far from Earth can humans go? and What can humans discover and achieve when we get there? The committee then explored a range of rationales for human spaceflight ranging from the pragmatic (its economic, national security,
scientific exploration, international relations, and technology impacts) to the aspirational—the notion that space is humanity’s future. While the committee did not identify a single rationale as the primary justification for space exploration and could not quantify the economic benefit of space exploration, it did conclude that a mix of rationales motivates space exploration.
Along with an examination of public and stakeholder attitudes about human exploration, the report evaluated three different pathways to illustrate the trade-offs among affordability, schedule, developmental risk, and the frequency of missions for different sequences of intermediate destinations. The pathways, all of which culminate in landing on the surface of Mars, include some combination of missions to asteroids, the Moon, and martian moons.
Improving the Decadal Survey Process
The decadal surveys in the space and Earth sciences are a “gold standard” not only for the Space Studies Board, but also for the National Academies as a whole. The surveys fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s charge to the National Academy of Sciences that it provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Congress, the White House, NASA, and other federal agencies value the surveys’ role in providing long-term strategic direction for the space program. Therefore, one of the premier tasks, if not the most important task, for the Space Studies Board is to guide these surveys and to ensure that the survey recommendations meet the objectives that the NRC and the government set for each study.
Each decadal survey must wrestle with two related questions: What are the most compelling and pressing scientific questions? and How can we address them? By prioritizing science goals, space science missions, other research activities, and particular scientific measurements, decadal surveys address these deeply linked questions. How do we do this best? is the basis of the charge to the ongoing “Survey of Surveys” ad hoc NRC committee chaired by Alan Dressler. The committee is working to identify best practices and is exploring why each of the most recent decadal surveys took considerably different approaches to the formulation of their respective science and mission activities. Is there a best approach, or should each survey reflect community idiosyncrasies? How can we ensure a greater awareness of and consistency with the goals, motivations, and strategic planning activities of potential U.S. and non-U.S. partner agencies and organizations? Does the timing of a decadal survey relative to that of its internal and external environment (that is, announcements of opportunity, budget planning cycles, mission selections, and strategic planning activities by survey-sponsoring agencies and relevant non-sponsoring agencies and organizations) affect its impact? This study reviewing the conduct of the decadal surveys builds on the Space Studies Board November 2012 workshop on lessons learned in the decadal survey process—the report of which is available on the SSB’s website. The questions this committee is considering are difficult questions, so we are fortunate that a strong and wise committee is contemplating them and will report in early spring 2015.
Continuity Study and Preparation for the Earth Science Decadal
As the study on decadal surveys continues, the Space Studies Board is also in the process of working with its standing Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space to initiate a complex and particularly challenging decadal survey that will result in a prioritization of the national program of civil Earth observations from space. Space observations are essential for deepening our understanding of the planet and providing immediate operational information for use in applications ranging from the forecast of weather to recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As noted in the inaugural decadal survey, published in January 2007:
The world faces significant environmental challenges: shortages of clean and accessible freshwater, degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, increases in soil erosion, changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, declines in fisheries, and the likelihood of substantial changes in climate. These changes are not isolated; they interact with each other and with natural variability in complex ways that cascade through the environment across local, regional, and global scales. Addressing these societal challenges requires that we confront key scientific questions related to ice sheets and sea-level change, large-scale and persistent shifts in precipitation and water availability, transcontinental air pollution, shifts in ecosystem structure and function in response to climate change, impacts of climate change on human health, and the occurrence of extreme events, such as severe storms, heat waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
As the charge for the decadal survey committee is developed, we will have to consider how best to prioritize science questions, measurements, and missions and how to ensure that the report meets the diverse needs of both science and mission agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
NASA, like all federal agencies, is faced with difficult choices among competing priorities for investment. In 2013, at the request of its Earth Science Division (ESD), an ad hoc committee of the NRC was formed with the task of providing a framework to assist in the determination of when a measurement(s) or dataset(s) initiated by ESD should be collected for extended periods. A report from the SSB ad hoc Committee on a Framework for Analyzing the Needs for Continuity of NASA-Sustained Remote Sensing Observations from Space, is expected in spring 2015. With an emphasis on the development of a more objective and transparent decision-making methodology, the report promises to be of use both to NASA and to the committee that will oversee the upcoming Earth Science and Applications from Space decadal survey.
Stewarding the Astrophysics Decadal Survey
Between decadal surveys, one of the responsibilities of the Space Studies Board and its standing committees is to shepherd the decadal surveys and respond to changes in our understanding of the underlying science as well as changing budgetary environments and new opportunities. In the area of astronomy and astrophysics, these changes have ranged from opportunities to participate as partners in recently selected European-led large missions to the opportunity to utilize the large telescopes transferred from the National Reconnaissance Office. One of the SSB’s 2014 reports was Evaluation of the Implementation of WFIRST/AFTA in the Context of New World New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. This study, chaired by Fiona Harrison, concluded the large telescope would “significantly enhance the power of the mission” but warned that implementation costs could comprise program balance within astrophysics. The end of 2014 saw the SSB’s Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics discuss and come to agreement on the statement of task for the NRC’s midterm assessment of the status of the recommendations from the New Worlds New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey. A study that will commence in Spring 2015.
Working with Our International Partners
One of the roles of the NAS is to help coordinate international scientific efforts. Since Benjamin Franklin spearhead the colonial participation in the measurements of the transit of Venus, international cooperation has been essential for progress in space science. One of themes of the 2015 NRC Space Science Week—where all the SSB standing committees meet in parallel, plenary, and joint sessions each Spring—was international collaboration. We were fortunate to have several of the major world leaders in Space Science attend a forum where there was a frank and wide ranging discussions both of the benefits and challenges of international space programs. Participants included John Grunsfeld (NASA), Saku Tsuneta (JAXA), Wu Ji (National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences), and Alvaro Gimenez (European Space Agency).
The current joint European Science Foundation/NRC “Committee on the Review of MEPAG Report on Planetary Protection for Mars Special Regions” represents another important form of international cooperation. This international panel is charged with recommending updated requirements for operation in places where terrestrial organisms might replicate. We don’t want to unintentionally transplant terrestrial life to these regions. This first time that the SSB has been part of an international panel report in close to two decades.
Another role of the National Academies is to organize conferences and workshops that bring together researchers from across the globe to exchange ideas and promote collaboration. In the same vein, and as part of an effort of building stronger ties between early career space scientists in the United States and China, the Space Studies Board and the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been organizing pairs of conferences held in the United States and China.. The first “Forum for New Leaders in Space Science,” started under the Charlie Kennel’s leadership of the SSB, focused on astronomy and heliophysics at its meetings in May and November of 2014. We are now in the midst of planning for the second meeting whose focus will be on Earth science and planetary science. Hopefully, some of these early career scientists who meet at the meetings will go on to build international collaborations that will address the profound scientific questions and challenges of our time.
The Space Studies Board also plays a role in communicating science to the public. During the NRC Space Science Week, Sara Seager gave a well-attended lecture on exoplanets and highlighted both the recent progress in this field and looked forward toward the possibility of detecting habitable exoplanets.
The Space Studies Board also looked more broadly at how we can best convey our exciting new insights from NASA science missions to K-12 students directly and to teachers and informal educators. In December, the SSB hosted a workshop entitled “Sharing the Adventure with the Student: Exploring the Intersections of NASA Space Science and Education.” An upcoming report will highlight some of the discussion from this meeting.
David N. Spergel
Space Studies Board
Space Studies Board Chairs and Vice Chairs
SPACE STUDIES BOARD CHAIRS
Lloyd V. Berkner (deceased), 1958–1962
Harry H. Hess (deceased), 1962–1969
Charles H. Townes (deceased), 1970–1973
Richard M. Goody, 1974–1976
A.G.W. Cameron (deceased), 1977–1981
Thomas M. Donahue (deceased), 1982–1988
Louis J. Lanzerotti, 1989–1994
Claude R. Canizares, 1994–2000
John H. McElroy (deceased), 2000–2003
Lennard A. Fisk, 2003–2008
Charles F. Kennel, 2008–2014
David N. Spergel, 2014–
SPACE STUDIES BOARD VICE CHAIRS
George A. Paulikas, 2003–2006
A. Thomas Young, 2006–2010
John M. Klineberg, 2011–2014
Robert D. Braun, 2014–
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Dedicated to the memory of
Charles H. Townes (1915-2015)
a respected friend and colleague
who served as Space Studies Board Chair
from 1970 to 1973