National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC 20546-0001
AUG 13 2015
Reply to Attn of:
National Research Council
Dr. David Spergel
Chair, Space Studies Board
500 5th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Dr. Spergel:
The 2010 SSB report, An Enabling Foundation for NASA’s Earth and Space Science Missions, stated that the Research and Analysis (R&A) programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) divisions, including the Planetary Science Division (PSD), comprise a key element of NASA’s mission-enabling activities. The report recommended, in part: “NASA should ensure that SMD mission-enabling activities are linked to the strategic goals of the agency and of SMD and that they are structured so as to: encompass the range and scope of activities needed to support those strategic goals; provide the broad knowledge base that is the context necessary to inteipreting data from spaceflight missions and defining new spaceflight missions; maximize the scientific return from all spaceflight missions; supply a continuous flow of new technical capabilities and scientific understanding from mission enabling activities into new spaceflight missions; and enable the healthy scientific and technical workforce needed to conduct NASA’s space and Earth science program.“
From 2011 to 2013, PSD undertook a process of community discussion and analysis leading to the restructuring of its R&A programs, in response to file above recommendation from the Enabling Foundation report. This process considered input from the Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee and input from other U.S. Government stakeholders. The restructured program was announced in late 2013, and initially implemented in the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) 2014 solicitation. Implementation has continued in the currently open ROSES 2015 solicitation.
It would be very helpful if the NRC were to convene an ad-hoc committee to examine the program elements of the PSD R&A programs, as they currently exist following restructuring, for their consistency with past NRC advice. In conducting its review the committee would address the following questions:
- Are the PSD R&A program elements appropriately linked to, and do they encompass the range and scope of activities needed to support, the NASA Strategic Objective for Planetary Science and the Planetary Science Division Science Goals, as articulated in the 2014 NASA Science Plan?
- Are the PSD R&A program elements appropriately structured to develop the broad base of knowledge and broad range of activities needed both to enable new spaceflight missions and to interpret and maximize the scientific return from existing missions?
The review should not examine the PSD programs as they were prior to the restructuring nor examine the strategic science goals and objectives of PSD, SMD, or NASA. The review should operate from the premise that the science goals of PSD are themselves intrinsically linked with the strategic goals of SMD and NASA; hence linkage with PSD goals implies linkage with SMD and NASA goals. Also the NRC should conduct its review in the context of the current budgetary realities which have differed from projections assumed prior to the release of the most recent planetary science decadal survey.
PSD would be able to provide, at your request, informational briefings and reference materials on the SMD and PSD strategic goals, the R&A program elements, and statistical data on proposals submitted and selected. We request that a report from the Board expressing its findings and suggestions be submitted in December 2016.
I would like to request that the NRC submit a plan for execution of the proposed review by the Space Studies Board. Once agreement on the scope, cost, and schedule of the proposed study has been achieved, the Contracting Officer will issue a task order for implementation.
We look forward to having the Board’s inputs to this vital activity. SMD’s point of contact for this study will be Dr. Thomas Statler, who can be reached at (202) 358-0272 or by email at Thomas.S.Statler@nasa.gov, if any questions arise.
John M. Grunsfeld
Associate Administrator for Sceince Mission Directorate