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Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division (2017)

Chapter: Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
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C

Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments

As part of its data-gathering process, the committee solicited perspectives from representatives of the various planetary science analysis/assessment groups and the NASA center leads for planetary science. The analysis/assessment groups (AGs) comprise members of the planetary-science community whose research is broadly aligned with specific solar system bodies and/or research themes. The AGs meet several times each year and provide input to the NASA Advisory Council through the Planetary Science Subcommittee. The center leads were asked for input because the NASA centers host research and mission activities that are quite distinct from those generally found in the academic research community. Moreover, civil servant scientists at NASA centers frequently work under different constraints than their counterparts in academia. Representatives of the AGs and several NASA centers gave presentations to the committee on the concerns expressed by their colleagues concerning the research and analysis (R&A) reorganization and current structure. The committee heard community perspectives from representatives of the following organizations:

  • Analysis/Assessment Groups:
    • CAPTEM: Curation and Analysis Planning Team for Extraterrestrial Materials
    • LEAG: Lunar Exploration Analysis Group
    • MAPSIT: Mapping and Planetary Spatial Infrastructure Team
    • MEPAG: Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group
    • OPAG: Outer Planets Assessment Group
    • SBAG: Small Bodies Assessment Group
    • VEXAG: Venus Exploration Analysis Group
  • NASA Center Leads for Planetary Science:
    • ARC: Ames Research Center, California
    • GSFC: Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland
    • JPL: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California
    • JSC: Johnson Space Center, Texas
    • MSFC: Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
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The representatives of the AGs and NASA science centers were provided with the charge to the committee and asked to provide their communities’ perspectives on the questions in the charge. The committee also encouraged the representatives to provide input on other aspects of the current program and the R&A reorganization that they felt were pertinent to the charge of the committee. The committee notes that some of the issues raised by representatives of the AGs and the NASA centers (and reported below) in response to the committee’s request could be described as anecdotal. Other responses relate to long-standing issues having been brought to the fore by, but unrelated to, the reorganization of the R&A program. As such, a detailed examination of them is far beyond the limited scope of the current study. The committee appreciates all these community perspectives as inputs in their deliberations, but notes that all findings and recommendations resulted directly from committee discussions.

Based on the presentations made by the representatives of the AGs and the NASA science centers and their subsequent discussions with the committee, their responses were formatted as seven tables (Tables C.1 to C.7). The perspectives from the representatives of the AGs and the science centers are to be found in the left and right columns, respectively.

TABLE C.1 Are PSD R&A Program Elements Linked to NASA PSD Goals and Objectives?

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM Yes in principle, no in practice ARC Better aligned with NASA science goals and the decadal survey
LEAG Mostly yes
MAPSIT No specific comment GSFC Better aligned with NASA goals enabling better program balance and resource direction
MEPAG Appear to be linked but it is all very broad. Not appropriately divided among program elements
JPL No specific comment
OPAG Yes, however a one-to-one matching doesn’t work. Most grants contribute to multiple top-level themes JSC Maps well to the stated science goals and resources allocated accordingly. Great for search for life and habitability
SBAG Many of the “new” programs are based on very broad questions, while “old” programs were often technique based
MSFC Better mapped to decadal survey
VEXAG Yes, but current elements are broad

TABLE C.2 Community Perspectives on the Current R&A Program Structure

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM Structured well in principle, but not in practice. Low selection numbers are a red flag ARC Uncertainties about program boundaries, leads researchers to submit similar proposals to multiple programs (SSW, HW, and EW)
LEAG The five major programs need to be separated into subprograms. MatISSE and PICASSO programs are welcomed
GSFC Anticipate positive effects associated with interdisciplinary programs, specifically HW and XRP
MAPSIT PDART is a strong addition but oversubscribed and underfunded. Planetary Geology and Geophysics is a big loss
JPL SSW too large, cumbersome, ill-understood catch-all
MEPAG Reasonable job of making sure there was a home for every relevant proposal JSC Reevaluate scope of SSW. Fewer programs, fewer opportunities to propose, timing is more critical, greater likelihood for a gap year
OPAG Structured well in terms of ocean worlds technology development, not for fundamental research (declined 32.5 percent)
MSFC SSW is too big, greater likelihood for gap year in funding in some programs
SBAG No specific comment
VEXAG The current R&A structure is process based. R&A program overall lacks specific structure to develop target-oriented knowledge base
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×

TABLE C.3 Perspectives on the Effectiveness of Review Panels in the Current R&A Structure

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM Systematic cross-calibration may be difficult between subpanels in broad programs like EW or SSW ARC Ensure that interdisciplinary proposals are reviewed by interdisciplinary scientists, not by multiple specialists
LEAG Some programs (e.g., SSW) encompass such a broad range of topics that it becomes impossible to find qualified, non-conflicted reviewers to adequately assess proposals GSFC No specific comment
JPL Reviewers with adequate breadth of knowledge required to evaluate SSW proposals are rare and conflict of interest policies restrict pool of reviewers
MAPSIT No specific comment
MEPAG The current structure creates large elements creating a challenging environment to identify qualified, unconflicted review panels JSC SSW is too large of a catch-all, makes it challenging to assemble a properly qualified panel for proposal review
OPAG Going to be even more difficult to find unconflicted people for the review panel MSFC Reviewer pool is more limited since the scope of program element is increased, greater potential for conflict of interest
SBAG Large programs may create issues finding knowledgeable reviewers
VEXAG Programmatic imbalance—main issues are reviewer burden (clear) and viability of multiple submittals (need stats). Proposal vetting and timing is incomprehensible

TABLE C.4 Effectiveness of PSD Communication and Transparency of Current Processes

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM Common perception in the community that the decline in selected proposals is a direct (but perhaps unintended) consequence of the HQ decision to apply equal selection rates of 20 percent to all new programs ARC Reorganization has been transparent
GSFC Lacking clear published data on funding allocations within R&A programs across the reorganization boundary
JPL No specific comment
LEAG No specific comment JSC Lacking good communication of what is expected to be funded. Reorganization was not well advertised
MAPSIT Unclear among community how and what types of maps should be done under PDART or other programs
MSFC Reorganization is transparent, but the priority of each program and its various elements is not
MEPAG No specific comment
OPAG Many SSW grants contribute significantly to habitability. If just grants in Habitable Worlds contribute to the Habitability theme, they are under-reporting by at least 2X. There is more habitability research done in SSW (80 grants) than in Habitability (14 grants)
SBAG As stated in the PSS report, restructuring of R&A program should be required to pass a formal senior review prior to implementation. SBAG finds that the submission of a draft ROSES 2014 document to the PSS does not constitute sufficient review and assessment
VEXAG Perceptions that restructuring was essentially a money-saving exercise without regard to community burden
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×

TABLE C.5 Selection Rates for Funding of Proposals in the Current R&A Program

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM PSD should prioritize its critical needs and not necessarily be tied to equal selection rates for the various defined programs ARC Decreasing selection rates, researchers need to write too many proposals to secure salary support
LEAG No specific comment GSFC Selection rates declined to 1/5
MAPSIT No specific comment JPL Low selection rates specifically in cosmochemistry and geochemistry
MEPAG No specific comment
OPAG 14 percent reduction in number of new OPAG-centric R&A grants and 32.5 percent reduction of fundamental research grants JSC Selection rates declined to 1/5
MSFC No specific comment
SBAG Low selection rates weaken astromaterial research, which motivates and enables new missions and may drive knowledgeable, experienced U.S. scientists out of the field
VEXAG Low success rates induced negative feedback and decrease workforce efficiency

TABLE C.6 Level of R&A Support of Field-Based and Analog Investigations

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM No specific comment ARC No specific comment
LEAG Decrease in funding PSTAR does not appear to translate to what gets funded GSFC No specific comment
JPL Negative impacts felt in programs that require significant infrastructure and support personnel (i.e., laboratory cosmochemistry)
MAPSIT No specific comment
MEPAG The R&A programs need to support field research and general research on impact crater materials, to elucidate fundamental processes relevant to Mars
OPAG No specific comment JSC Priority appears to be to diminish sample studies; perception is that contributions not valued
SBAG No specific comment
VEXAG No specific comment
MSFC No specific comment

TABLE C.7 Do the Current PSD R&A Program Elements Adequately Support Existing and Enable Future Missions?

Analysis Group NASA Center
CAPTEM No specific comment ARC No specific comment
LEAG The current lack of focus on theoretical modeling, laboratory work, and new software development is severely hindering our ability to understand new data and apply it to future mission studies GSFC Technology support for flight programs is critical for NASA success, but stable and long-term infrastructure support not integrated well in the programs
MAPSIT Should proposals supporting current and future missions be given priority?
MEPAG Loss of MFRP seriously diminishes the ability to perform investigations crucial to framing questions for future missions JPL No specific comment
JSC No specific comment
OPAG No spacecraft data from Outer Planets between end of Cassini Saturn orbiter and Juno Jupiter orbiter and arrival of Europa Clipper multiflyby mission (approx. 10-year gap) MSFC No specific comment
SBAG No specific comment
VEXAG No specific comment
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Center Leads and Analysis Group Comments." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24759.
×
Page 51
Next: Appendix D: Committee Members and Staff Biographies »
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The Research and Analysis (R&A) program managed by NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD), supports a broad range of planetary science activities, including the analysis of data from past and current spacecraft; laboratory research; theoretical, modeling, and computational studies; geological and astrobiological fieldwork in planetary analog environments on Earth; geological mapping of planetary bodies; analysis of data from Earth- and space-based telescopes; and development of flight instruments and technology needed for future planetary science missions. The primary role of the PSD R&A program is to address NASA’s strategic objective for planetary science and PSD’s science goals.

Recently, PSD reorganized the R&A program to provide better alignment with the strategic goals for planetary sciences. The major changes in the R&A program involved consolidating a number of prior program elements, many of which were organized by subdiscipline, into a smaller number of thematic core research program elements. Despite numerous efforts by PSD to communicate the rationale for the reorganization and articulate clearly the new processes, there has been significant resistance from the planetary science community and concerns in some sectors regarding the major realignment of funding priorities.

Review of NASA’s Planetary Science Division’s Restructured Research and Analysis Programs examines the new R&A program and determines if it appropriately aligns with the agency’s strategic goals, supports existing flight programs, and enables future missions. This report explores whether any specific research areas or subdisciplinary groups that are critical to NASA’s strategic objectives for planetary science and PSD’s science goals are not supported appropriately in the current program or have been inadvertently disenfranchised through the reorganization.

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