The 2019 NASA Science Plan, entitled Explore Science 2019-2024: A Vision for Scientific Excellence, (hereafter the draft document) defines a new set of principles to guide the organization of and setting of priorities for NASA SMD.1 From an overarching vision to “Lead a globally interconnected program . . .” (Figure 1.1), the draft document describes components of its mission, values, and leadership priorities that guide how SMD’s four science divisions—Astrophysics, Earth Science and Applications, Heliophysics, and Planetary Science—could address important science questions and the observations needed to support that science. Generally, the document expresses principles and priorities that will guide SMD, without specific goals in the 2019-2024 timeframe. The 2019 draft document, the sixth in a series reviewed by the Space Studies Board,2,3,4,5,6 is much more concise (~25 pages versus 126 pages) than its 2014 predecessor,7 hence the review is much shorter. The NASA draft document appears to be a credible early draft containing elements of what the SSB had looked for, but not found, during its reviews of prior draft NASA science plans and strategies.8 Whereas NASA’s previous documents were criticized as being mainly catalogs of missions, programs, and desires, the current draft document appears to contain the principles to guide how those missions and programs should be managed and the desires realized.
1 NASA, Explore Science 2019-2024: A Vision for Scientific Excellence, http://sites.nationalacademies.org/SSB/CurrentProjects/SSB_194794.
2 National Research Council (NRC), “On NASA’s Office of Space Science Draft Strategic Plan,” letter report from SSB Chair Claude R. Canizares to Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Space Science, August 27, Washington, D.C., 1997.
3 NRC, “On the Space Science Enterprise Draft Strategic Plan,” letter report from SSB Chair Claude R. Canizares to Edward J. Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Space Science, May 26, Washington, D.C., 2000.
4 NRC, “On Assessment of NASA’s Draft 2003 Space Science Enterprise Strategy,” letter report from SSB Chair John H. McElroy to Edward J. Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Space Science, May 29, Washington, D.C., 2003
5 NRC, “A Review of NASA’s 2006 Draft Science Plan,” letter report from A. Thomas Young, chair of the ad hoc Committee on Review of NASA Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, to Mary Cleave, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, September 15, Washington, D.C., 2006.
6 NRC, Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
8 Fortunately, the reviewers of the draft 2014 SMD Science Plan included in their report (Appendix C of Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan) a summary of the key comments from the reviews of the 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2006 Science Plans. Prior Science Plans contained extensive catalogues of missions and programs with few indications of how decisions were to be made. The summary comments from Appendix C that particularly resonated with the members of the current committee was the one stating the following: “Several reviews noted that . . . NASA’s Science Plan was not “strategic” and, thus, of limited utility in planning.
An expanded and annotated version of the draft document’s table of contents can be found in Appendix B.
The Committee on the NASA Science Mission Directorate Science Plan supports SMD’s efforts to formulate a more principled approach to managing its portfolio of missions and programs but has a range of concerns that translate into a set of recommendations. Because some recommendations fall into multiple categories, and some reorganization of topics and priorities is recommended, the organization of this report is somewhat different from that outlined in the committee’s statement of task (in Appendix A). The order here is as follows:
- General readability and clarity of presentation (see Chapter 2, “Readability and Clarity of Presentation”);
- Level of ambition of the specified strategies in light of current and emerging opportunities to advance Earth and space science over the next 5 years (see Chapter 3, “Level of Ambition”);
- Ability of SMD to meet the science objectives in the most recent decadal surveys through implementation of specified strategies (see Chapter 4 “Ability to Meet Science Objectives in the Decadal Surveys”); and
- Identification of additional strategies for SMD's consideration (see Chapter 5, “Additional Guiding Principles”).
In response to these four tasks, the committee offers 17 recommendations to SMD.