For well over 50 years the United States has enjoyed a leading position in astronomy. Remarkable studies of the skies with the Palomar 5-m telescope began in 1948. Rising to the challenge presented by Sputnik in 1957, the federal government put into place highly visible space- and ground-based programs. These marvelous resources for astronomy helped to attract some of the nation’s best young minds to careers in science and engineering. The technological by-products of this effort, particularly in computing, aeronautics and astronautics, telecommunications, numerical simulation, and optics, have helped to give the nation an economic competitive advantage. The field of astronomy continues to attract scientists, and Ph.D. production is up. In 1987, 100 Ph.D.s were awarded, and in 1997 that number increased to 197 (NSF, 1999a). However, a critical time is at hand for astronomy in the United States. Space-based astronomy appears to be thriving, but U.S. leadership in astronomy as a whole is threatened by the decreasing share of federal investment in basic research in astronomy through the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The two lead agencies for astronomical research in the United States, NASA and NSF, support space- and ground-based studies, respectively. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD) also sponsor programs that include astrophysics. In the past decade, NASA and its scientists have been extraordinarily successful in communicating their scientific vision to the public and the Congress. Astronomy carried out in space, free from the interference of Earth’s atmosphere, produces spectacular images of the cosmos at wavelengths ranging from the far- and near-infrared, through the optical and the ultraviolet, to the x-ray. Because “a picture is worth a thousand words,” these beautiful and exotic images elicit a deep and immediate response among scientists and nonscientists alike. Their impact helps explain the public’s enthusiasm for the nation’s space program. The data provided by the suite of NASA missions has revolutionized our understanding of the universe.
Opportunities for U.S. astronomy from the ground using large optical and radio telescopes are equally challenging and compelling. For example, the Keck and Gemini telescopes offer high-resolution spectroscopic capabilities that, combined with theoretical analysis and computational modeling, can yield insight into the dynamics, chemical composition, and evolutionary state of the objects imaged from space as well as a wealth of other astronomical phenomena detected from the ground. In addition to very large filled apertures, another advantage that ground-
based facilities have over their space-based counterparts is the short lead time between the latest breakthroughs in the fast-moving electronics and related industries, and the incorporation of such advances in sophisticated instrumentation at the back ends of telescopes. The generally much shorter time scale of ground-based projects also is better suited to the training of students. Ground-based facilities provide the stability of the long baselines required to produce images of faint sources at high angular resolution by interferometric techniques using arrays of telescopes. Large-scale optical, infrared, and radio surveys and synoptic studies, requiring decades of precise measurements on a large number of targets, may also be conducted advantageously from the ground. Adding to the excitement, ground-based astronomy is moving beyond traditional boundaries of optical and radio disciplines into neutrino and gamma-ray astronomy as well.
If U.S. astronomy is to remain world-class, improved resources for ground-based efforts must be provided. For ground-based astronomy, the NSF is the main source of federal money. Although the United States has been a world leader in astronomical research during much of the 20th century, other countries have advanced rapidly, so that in some cases their facilities are competitive with—and for some purposes, even superior to—U.S. facilities in optical ground-based astronomy.1 The United States can benefit from international collaboration, but only if it brings world-class capabilities to the collaboration.
In this chapter, the committee recommends new policies to keep U.S. astronomy at the scientific frontiers. These recommendations were developed through the extensive efforts of the Panel on Astronomy Education and Policy. The chapter begins with recommendations related to the NSF, NASA, and the DOE, continues with comments on environmental factors affecting observing conditions for astronomy, briefly discusses professional development and the role of professional societies, and concludes with a reply to the questions posed to the committee by the Congress (see the preface).
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: GROUND-BASED FACILITIES
The NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) provides the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO), National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), National Solar Observatory (NSO), National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), and Gemini Observatory facilities for the use of astronomers from the United States (and elsewhere). The committee commends the NSF for its role in giving U.S. astronomers the support needed to produce this current suite of worldclass facilities, including the Very Large Array (VLA), the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), Gemini, and the Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG). In considering how to position the United States so that it can remain among the leaders in ground-based astronomical research in the future, it is helpful to recall recent history.
With respect to the funding of observing facilities, ground-based disciplines within astronomy have developed differently over the years. Major radio and solar facilities are now concentrated at national centers, whereas major optical facilities are concentrated at private and state (hereinafter “independent”) observatories, which surpass the national optical facilities in aperture size and total telescope area. The radio community represents 10 percent of active astronomers; the much larger optical and infrared (OIR) ground-based community accounts for 40 percent of active astronomers. Both national and independent radio facilities provide observing time for the community at large. However, for ground-based OIR, about half the community has direct access only to the national facilities because their institutions cannot or do not participate in an independent observatory (NRC, 2000). To use a telescope at an independent observatory, these astronomers must forge a collaboration with someone who has direct access to the telescope.
In developing strategies for the new decade, the committee convened an ad hoc cross-panel working group chaired by F. Bash,2 NSF-funded National Observatories, to review the functioning of all NSF-funded observatories and initiate discussion with the relevant panels and with the committee as a whole. Based on input from the Bash working group and on the work of both the education and policy panel and the Panel on Optical and Infrared Astronomy from the Ground, the committee recommends a new paradigm for ground-based astronomy that it believes will lead to the most effective use of ground-based facilities and optimize the science opportunities for the astronomical community. The committee then outlines the roles and responsibilities of the national astronomy organizations and the independent observatories, as well as those of the NSF, in this new paradigm.
RECOMMENDED NEW PARADIGM
The United States has a long tradition of independent optical observatories, beginning more than 150 years ago. Construction of the first U.S. observatory, located at Williams College, was completed by 1838; citizens of Boston donated funds to acquire a twin of the world’s largest refractor—a 15-inch telescope—for Harvard College in 1847. Most recently, the Keck Foundation provided the bulk of the funding for two 10-m telescopes for a consortium led by the University of California and Caltech. Currently, the national facilities have 22 percent of the total area of primary mirrors of U.S. optical telescopes, and the independent observatories have the dominant 78 percent (ESO, 1998). The suite of national observatories that serves the U.S. astronomical community—NOAO, NRAO, NAIC, and NSO—was created during the period from 1957 to 1983; Gemini was formed in 1993. Each was created as a result of the arguments put forward by particular scientific communities at different times and in different contexts. Not surprisingly, each has evolved in its own way, and each has enjoyed different successes.
As we enter the new millennium, U.S. ground-based astronomy facilities, both independent and national, must evolve in a changing environment. There is growing competition from Europe and Japan, which together have invested in OIR facilities at a level (relative to gross domestic product) greater than 10 times that of the NSF investment over a comparable period,3 and more than 3 times that of the combined federal, state, and private investment. The large investment of state and private funding in major OIR facilities provides the context and opportunity for using federal funds in a highly leveraged way to ensure that the distributed system of U.S. ground-based facilities as a whole has the capabilities to compete successfully for a world leadership position in all of astronomy. Universities, which will produce the next generation of astronomers and instrument builders, as well as other scientists and engineers, must be supported as a key part of the new system. Finally, the public that provides a substantial part of the support for the system must be informed about exciting astronomical discoveries. The committee believes that by working in concert, the independent observatories and the national facilities can ensure that astronomy in the United States will thrive and move forward to capture the scientific opportunities ahead.
To help ensure maximum scientific return from federal investments in ground-based astronomy, the committee recommends that all facilities, whether nationally or
independently operated, be viewed as single integrated systems—one for optical and infrared astronomy, one for radio astronomy, and one for solar astronomy. The committee recommends that the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences implement a plan for ground-based astronomy that reflects an integrated view of independent and national observatories and the funding available from government and private sources.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF NATIONAL ASTRONOMY ORGANIZATIONS AND INDEPENDENT OBSERVATORIES
To move forward to the next generation of facilities, which are likely to be of a scale that will require a collaborative approach, the committee envisions the following as the responsibilities of the participants:
Community participation in major national telescope initiatives must be led by an effective national astronomy organization working in concert with universities and similar institutions. Such an organization should in turn be subject to close community oversight with appropriate advisory bodies. It should:
Lead the development of a strategic plan for the evolution of the capabilities of the system by organizing discussions involving the NSF, the independent observatories, the academic community, and industry.
Be able to contribute to the scientific leadership and provide the technical expertise (e.g., professional engineering and system management), the administrative skills, and the management experience and infrastructure needed in the building of those facilities that are too large or expensive to fit within the resources of single institutions or small partnerships.
Ensure that the United States enters international collaborations with a clear scientific purpose and a well-considered technical and administrative approach, and maintain these or modify them as appropriate for the duration of the project.
Coordinate with the community to provide capabilities that support the suite of state-of-the-art large telescopes; such capabilities may include telescopes, instruments, archives, observing modes, and other channels for access to data.
Collaborate with universities to build instruments for national telescopes with agreed-upon and clearly documented technical standards.
Establish internships for instrument builders at national observatories in order to foster the training of skilled instrumentalists to benefit both U.S. astronomy and U.S. industry.
In the case of the national OIR organization, administer publicly available observing time at federally funded telescopes such as Gemini and, where appropriate, the publicly available time at the independent optical observatories.
Recognizing that scientific progress will be strengthened by a cooperative approach on the part of the national and independent facilities, universities/independent observatories should:
Develop acceptable mechanisms in concert with the NSF and the relevant national astronomy organization for sharing fractions of their facilities with the larger astronomical community. The Telescope System Instrumentation Program, presented in more detail in Chapter 3 of this report and in Chapter 2 of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium: Panel Reports (NRC, 2001), is a prime example of such a mechanism. For the independent observatories, this scheme has the advantage that (a) no one facility will have to provide every capability since diverse facilities will be open to all and (b) their scientific staffs will benefit through increased access to other facilities.
Work with the appropriate national astronomy organization to develop a strategic plan for the system as a whole, and implement the parts of the plan that should be carried out at the universities and independent observatories.
Work with the national astronomy organization on the development of facilities that are too large or expensive to fit within the resources of single institutions or consortia.
Assume the responsibility for purchasing, instrumenting, and operating small telescopes needed for their students and faculty.
The committee’s review, reflected in its policy recommendations, led to the following assessment of the current national astronomy organizations:
NOAO as currently functioning and overseen is not structured to fulfill the role foreseen for an effective national organization acting on behalf of the ground-based OIR community. The committee believes that NOAO’s goals and operations must be substantially
modified to conform to this paradigm. The NSF, together with NOAO and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), should establish a common vision of how these new roles can be implemented, and the NSF should set criteria, based on the precepts listed under 1 above, by which NOAO’s success can be evaluated. Using these criteria, the NSF should initiate a high-level external review of NOAO to ensure that changes to achieve these goals can be instituted promptly. Periodic reviews will keep this transition and further evolution on course.
Gemini promises to provide the U.S. astronomical community with two telescopes consistent with the highest recommendation of the 1991 survey, The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NRC, 1991). NOAO deserves considerable credit for conceiving and promoting the Gemini project and for supplying much of the technical capability that has made it possible. However, NOAO must continue to exert leadership through the U.S. Gemini Program and, in concert with the U.S. members on the Gemini Board, marshal the expertise to design and build future Gemini instruments that will respond to the science goals of the U.S. community.
NRAO has won the respect of the radio community. It should continue to engage the broad university community in developing facilities and instruments, and it should work proactively to ensure that radio astronomy science and instrumentation development are firmly rooted in the universities.
NAIC is an example of a university based and operated national observatory that is a uniquely powerful facility. Arecibo serves as an excellent model by inviting the academic community to operate university-built receivers on the telescope.
NSO has developed world-leading research capabilities that solidly support both the U.S. and international community of solar astronomers. The committee believes that NSO and NOAO will be well served by NSO’s separation from NOAO in order to accomplish the next solar telescope initiative. The committee is pleased to see that this separation has begun.
NEW PROCEDURES AND STRATEGIES
If U.S. astronomy is to step up to new challenges, embrace expanding scientific opportunities, including international collaborations, increase
the power of its facilities (with concomitant increases in size and complexity), and exploit the many advances in technology, it is essential to make optimum use of government funding and capitalize on private investment. The committee recommends five strategies for the National Science Foundation.
1. COMPETITIVE REVIEW OF NSF ASTRONOMY FACILITIES AND ORGANIZATIONS
The committee recommends that, about every 5 years, the National Science Foundation astronomy facilities be competitively reviewed and prioritized based on past performance and future expectations. A single committee should conduct this review across all subfields of astronomy. New facilities should first be competitively evaluated between 5 and 10 years after they become operational and on the normal cycle thereafter.
Ground-based astronomy telescopes generally have useful lifetimes of at least 15 years or more because they can be modified with state-ofthe-art equipment to approach their highest possible levels of performance. Yet, as in all rapidly developing fields, with changing scientific questions and opportunities, some telescopes remain more appropriate than others for addressing new scientific challenges. In evaluating how best to advance, the astronomy and astrophysics community must therefore determine not only which new facilities should be built, but also those that should be modified, privatized, or even shut down.
The committee suggests that all NSF astronomy facilities be subjected to a competitive review, with prioritization and privatization or closure as possible options. NASA carries on such a review, called the Senior Review, on a 2-year timetable, which will move to a 3-year cycle in 2003. This review cycle is appropriate to the shorter life of space missions. After the Senior Review, highly ranked missions benefit from increased operations and grants funds; the lowest-ranked missions are frequently ramped down and turned off. Such a procedure is designed to maintain the best science and also to make funds available for new or improved facilities or grants. The committee conducting the competitive review for the NSF may wish to request comparative evaluations of facilities within individual disciplines prior to its deliberations. The competitive reviews
should be timed so as to provide assessments helpful to the NRC’s decadal surveys of astronomy and astrophysics.
2. REGULAR EXPERT ADVICE FOR THE NSF DIVISION OF ASTRONOMICAL SCIENCES
The competitive review procedure will offer advice to NSF AST on facilities and programs at 5-year intervals. The NRC’s Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics provides strategic advice and oversight for the implementation of the decadal survey. NSF AST gathers community input in a variety of formal and informal ways. Beyond these sources of advice, NSF AST has a critical need for regular expert advice on pressing issues that arise, both in the short and long term. The committee strongly encourages NSF AST to find a mechanism to obtain such advice, on a continuing basis, from a small group of experts representative of the community.
3. FUNDING ATTACHED TO NEW FACILITIES
The committee recommends that the National Science Foundation budget for any new capital project include funding for operations, new instrumentation development, and research grants associated with the new facility, as well as for construction and the initial complement of instruments. This combined allocation must be regarded as the cost of the new facility. The committee emphasizes that the inclusion of grant money specific to each new facility should not displace the existing NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences unrestricted grants program.
Compelling scientific challenges drive the construction of new facilities for ground-based astronomy. Hardware alone does not ensure a successful facility; reaping the scientific benefits a facility can provide requires substantial complementary activities. These efforts include broadly based observing programs, frequently at different wavelength bands, challenging theoretical research, and ongoing development of instrumentation to benefit from advances in new technologies, instrument design, and computational power. Starting construction without an overall budget in hand for a complete program can spell lost opportuni-
ties for researchers who could capitalize on the powerful new capabilities; bare-bones instrumentation efforts unable to move forward with technology developments; and operations funds inadequate to realize the scientific potential of the facility.
The committee strongly recommends that a different mode of budgeting be instituted. The community and the NSF must commit at the beginning of a project to estimate adequately and acquire the funds required to properly utilize the facility for the research of which it is capable. Without clear identification of these monies, new construction should not begin. This committee rates the importance of the unrestricted grants program so highly that it emphasizes that new initiatives should not be undertaken at the expense of the unrestricted grants program. Based on the Panel on Astronomy Education and Policy’s examination of the costs of existing radio and optical facilities, the committee estimates that each year about 5 to 10 percent of the total cost of capital construction—materials and labor—is required to support reliable operation for a full range of observing modes. About 3 percent per year will be needed for the first 5 years of operation to upgrade the initial instrumentation and to provide a suite of new instruments that fully exploit the capabilities of the new facility. These estimates are necessarily approximate because different facilities count faculty and staff positions in different ways, and the cost of a facility may or may not include the cost of site development or base camps. The 3 percent figure for instrumentation is somewhat higher than the average for existing facilities because instrumentation is generally underfunded. For example, had this recommendation been in place for the past decade, the scientific capability of the VLA would not be compromised by the use of technology left over from the 1970s.
To fully exploit new facilities, researchers should be able to carry out ambitious, creative programs that develop the facilities’ full capabilities. The committee therefore recommends that an additional 3 percent of the capital cost be budgeted for each of the first 5 years for facility grants for major ground-based facilities. For moderate ground-based facilities, a cost-effective and competitive grants program requires a somewhat higher percentage, and the committee recommends 5 percent per year for such facilities. The funding for small ground-based facilities is inadequate to justify facility grants programs. Facility grants for the major and moderate facilities would support the costs of the users of the facility, research grants related to the use of the facility, including multiwave-
length studies, and support for the theory challenges associated with the facility. As is the case for individual investigator grants, facility grants should be allocated in open competition in the national community.
In estimating the total cost of ground-based capital projects, the committee has adopted the figures of 7 percent per year for operations, 3 percent per year for new instrumentation, 3 percent per year for grants for major facilities, and 5 percent per year for grants for moderate facilities. The cost estimates include this additional funding for a period of 5 years (with the few exceptions detailed in Chapter 1), when the scientific returns per dollar invested are at their peak. Following this 5-year period, the mix of operations, instrumentation, and grants funding should be subject to the recommended competitive review to ensure that additional investments in the facility are balanced against requests for new facilities and for new instrumentation and grants for other facilities. As a guideline, the committee anticipates that the funding for facility grants will be reduced substantially after 5 years. Operations and instrumentation funds are likely to ramp down more slowly.
4. NSF RESPONSIBILITIES FOR ACCESS AND BALANCE IN THE SYSTEM OF INDEPENDENT AND NATIONAL OBSERVATORIES
To help ensure optimum scientific returns from the system of independent and national observatories, the committee recommends that the National Science Foundation enhance and leverage observing opportunities for the community and that it recognize the interdependent roles of universities and national facilities.
The proposed new paradigm for ground-based astronomy envisions the suite of U.S. astronomical facilities, including federally supported and independent observatories, as single systems for each subdiscipline of ground-based astronomy: OIR, radio, and solar. Within a system, each facility will inevitably have its own particular capabilities, and U.S. observers should, in principle, be able to apply for observing time with the instrument best suited to the problem at hand. The committee encourages the NSF AST to adopt a flexible approach to ensure community access to these observational resources coupled with adequate development of young scientists. The approach may vary from one branch of ground-based astronomy to another.
For OIR astronomy, a major issue involves community access to the telescopes of independent observatories. In the United States, a number of the large optical telescopes constructed recently have been built with private and/or state funds. Access to most of these independent facilities is relatively restricted. The committee’s recommendation in Chapter 3 for the Telescope System Instrumentation Program can foster open, competitive access to these powerful new facilities. In the proposed program, construction of new instrumentation at private observatories is funded in exchange for telescope time or other, equally valuable benefits for the community at large.
The situation for radio astronomy is currently close to the concept of one system. For millimeter-wave astronomers, in particular, there is significant access4 to the facilities operated by universities. However, as the Panel on Radio and Submillimeter-Wave Astronomy points out in Chapter 4 of the Panel Reports (NRC, 2001), the dominance of the national centimeter-wave facilities has reduced the opportunities for contributions by university radio astronomy in this area. With GBT and ALMA coming on line in this decade, it will be critical to ensure that radio astronomy continues to be carried out in a university setting. The recommended initiatives CARMA and SKA technology development can and should continue to involve university astronomers.
For solar physics, for which most of the major facilities are national facilities, it is important to ensure vigorous university programs so that young solar physicists can be trained. Solar physics is currently very healthy given the success of recent space-based missions. However, much of solar physics is now carried out in research institutes, and university departments are not replacing solar physics faculty as they retire. The NSF should work to involve university astronomers both in the planning of new solar facilities and in solar physics research programs. In particular, the committee recommends that the NSF encourage strong university participation in both the Advanced Solar Telescope and the Frequency Agile Solar Radio telescope initiatives to provide opportunities for developing the next generation of solar physicists.
5. MANAGEMENT OVERSIGHT
For National Science Foundation-sponsored projects costing several million dollars or more, the committee recommends that NSF require a management plan appropriate to
the size of the project, with suitable oversight mechanisms to ensure successful completion of such projects on time and within budget.
Over the past decade, ground-based astronomy in the United States entered a new era in terms of the size and complexity of its new facilities, instruments, and software. The costs of major facilities now often exceed $100 million, while the costs of facility instruments can approach $10 million. The talents of many people are needed to successfully complete such programs, requiring the application of management approaches and tools appropriate to projects of such scale. The evaluation of the management plans for NSF proposals for facilities and instruments costing more than several million dollars should constitute a significant part of the proposal selection process. Continued oversight should take place through post-award reviews of the progress made toward planned objectives. Project proposals should contain contingency plans for a reduction in scope should costs begin to escalate beyond the original estimates. The committee recognizes and approves of the steps that the NSF has already taken in this direction.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION GRANTS IN ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS
A severe problem currently exists in the budget levels for ground-based astronomy. Most of the NSF’s support for astronomers comes through the Division of Astronomical Sciences, while some funding comes through the Division of Physics. NSF support for astronomy and astrophysics has not shared proportionately in the budget increases of the NSF as a whole (Figure 6.1). Consequently, the strains of decreased purchasing power coupled with the responsibility for maintaining the national U.S. ground-based effort in radio, optical, and solar astronomy have led to a division of the NSF AST budget such that, through the decade of the 1990s, about 65 percent of the NSF allocation to AST was assigned to facilities operated by national astronomy organizations, with only about 22 percent made available to support individual investigators (Figure 6.2); the rest went to instrumentation and the university radio observatories. The budgets for the national facilities have lost purchasing power, resulting in cutbacks of services to users and reductions in necessary maintenance, and sharply reducing resources for improve-
ments in these national facilities. The ratio of proposals received by NSF AST to proposals funded in the university grants program doubled from 2:1 in FY1990 to nearly 4:1 in FY1999 (see Figure 6.2). The corresponding ratio for the Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS) Directorate and the NSF as a whole was more favorable at 3:1. More astronomers are applying to the NSF for support; between 1990 and 1999, the number of proposals received increased by about 50 percent, and the number of grants awarded declined by 30 percent (NRC, 2000, Figure 5.4).
Individual investigator grants support the work of astronomers who propose in peer-reviewed competition to develop innovative theoretical ideas and challenging observational programs. The studies funded by these grants form the fabric of basic research in astronomy and provide a primary means of training graduate students, and they provide some support for undergraduates as well. During the past decade, the shrinking opportunities for research grants in astronomy have had severe effects on the university research community and appear out of balance with respect to other divisions within the MPS. Restrictions in NSF
funding have compromised the ability of U.S. researchers to obtain the full scientific return on the funds invested in ground-based facilities. Although many astronomers have responded by seeking funding from NASA, the science that they can do is altered as a result and their funding is vulnerable to the failure of one of NASA’s flagship missions (NRC, 2000, Finding 4, p. 2). To improve the picture, the committee recommends two approaches to enhancing the NSF AST grants program:
With construction of each new facility, commit to a facility grants program, including it in a comprehensive project budget along with the allocations for construction, operations, and instrumentation.
Through a periodic competitive review of NSF-funded facilities, make existing funds available for grants or for new or improved facilities, depending on scientific priorities.
In addition, the committee recommends the following :
To ensure the future vitality of the field, NSF AST should provide adequate funding for grants not tied to a facility or program—the unrestricted grants.
The NSF AST should initiate new projects with other NSF divisions that emphasize cross-disciplinary activities deriving from new technologies or new scientific themes developed in this report.
The NSF should work with other federal government agencies and with the astronomical community to build interagency programs that will aggressively pursue astronomical problems of broad national interest.
The committee notes that the growth of interdisciplinary projects in astrophysics and cosmology has led to increased participation of NSF divisions other than AST in support of astronomy and astrophysics. In particular, the committee endorses the continued development of the new program activity coordinated within the NSF Physics Division (PHY) for projects in nuclear and particle astrophysics. This initiative cuts across NSF programs in high-energy physics, nuclear physics, theory, and gravitational physics within PHY as well as work in the Office of Polar Programs and NSF AST. It represents a positive step in developing a coherent approach to interdisciplinary projects in astrophysics within NSF.
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NASA: SPACE-BASED ASTRONOMY
The U.S. space program in astronomy is generally vigorous and strong. NASA has made a variety of flight and suborbital opportunities available to the astronomy community along with grants for data analysis and theoretical studies. NASA’s initiative for the Astrophysics Data System has vastly increased the accessibility of the scientific literature for astronomers. NASA deserves credit for this valuable activity and is urged to continue it. NASA’s data archiving and distribution systems are extremely effective as well, making results from space-based observations available to a worldwide community of scientists. NASA’s efforts to engage the American public in the excitement of astronomical search and discovery are exemplary.
As an agency, NASA has been successful in communicating its
objectives to the Congress and the community at large in terms of “themes” as described by its Office of Space Science. The Origins theme has been particularly resonant with Congress. The agency is to be commended for its proactive approach in clarifying its goals and in changing its research and analysis policies to attempt to ensure optimum science returns from the investment in missions.
The committee is concerned, however, that NASA maintain the diversity in mission size, from small to medium to large, needed to meet scientific objectives in a cost-effective manner.
The committee recommends that NASA maintain diversity in its flight programs by ensuring that a suite of opportunities, including small, moderate, and major missions, is available to accomplish scientific goals.
There are compelling scientific, programmatic, technical, and educational reasons for ensuring some balance between the major flagship missions and missions of moderate and small size (and cost). Flagship missions such as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Chandra X-ray Observatory occur about twice per decade and produce outstanding science that defines substantive new areas of research in astronomy. But because of their high public visibility and great costs, such missions must be designed and built so as to maximize the likelihood of operational success in orbit. Ensuring a high success rate tends to drive up costs and lengthen schedules. The future of astronomy in space will be at substantial risk if it must depend on the successful deployment of only a few missions per decade.
Small and moderate missions add important dimensions to NASA’s space astronomy program: respectively, rapid response and targeted science. The Explorer program, an effective response to the need for frequent small-mission opportunities, should be continued at its current level. Because they can deploy new technology on relatively short time scales or move rapidly to follow up on recent discoveries, newly conceived missions of moderate cost can at times scientifically outperform the large missions on particular problems. Given the lower costs of small and moderate missions, an occasional failure can be accepted, although no failure in space occurs without some political cost to the program. Compared with one or two larger missions, several moderate and many small missions will more likely provide greater opportunities for developing a diverse set of new technologies and for training experimental space
scientists. On several accounts, moderate and small missions can be extremely cost-effective.
The committee believes that a vigorous program of moderate-sized missions is required to achieve program diversity. Moderate missions are similar in capability to the older Delta-class Explorers such as the Cosmic Background Explorer, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, and the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer or to the Discovery missions of the Solar System Exploration and Discovery Program. Several missions recommended for this decade by the committee fit into this class: ARISE, EXIST, GLAST, LISA, and SDO.
The committee also calls attention to the potential for very cost-effective and scientifically fruitful advances with the advent of long-duration (10-day) balloon flights and the expected availability after the final 2 years of development of ultralong-duration (up to 100-day) balloon flights (see the section “The National Virtual Observatory and Other High-Leverage, Small Initiatives” in Chapter 3). These balloonborne scientific missions also promise nearly ideal opportunities to involve students in all aspects of a flight program from creation of the idea through analysis of the data.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY: ASTROPHYSICAL RESEARCH
Given the increasing involvement of the Department of Energy in projects that involve astrophysics, the committee recommends that DOE develop a strategic plan for astrophysics that would lend programmatic coherence and facilitate coordination and cooperation with other agencies on science of mutual interest.
Particle and nuclear astrophysics and cosmology are branches of physics. Because of the extreme scales of distance and energy accessible in the universe, astronomical observations can probe particles and forces in ways not possible in the laboratory. As a consequence, DOE-supported high-energy and nuclear physicists and terrestrial laboratories are increasingly making contributions to astronomy and astrophysics through instrumentation, detectors, techniques for acquisition and analysis of data, and numerical simulation. A highly visible manifestation
is the Los Alamos preprint server (see <xxx.lanl.gov>), which has become a valuable and widely used resource for dissemination of research in astronomy as well as in high-energy, nuclear, and gravitational physics.
As the size and complexity of astronomy and astrophysics projects increase, funding patterns are changing in ways that challenge traditional agency boundaries and funding patterns, and interagency collaborations are frequently advantageous. The committee commends DOE for supporting astrophysical research and recommends that DOE develop a strategic plan for astrophysics to ensure a vigorous, coherent research program and to facilitate cooperation with other agencies.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ON ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS
Observing conditions for astronomy, both on Earth and in space, are deteriorating—in many instances quite rapidly. Many new initiatives presented in this report may never reach their full potential unless skies are dark, space trash is kept under control, and unwanted radio emissions are kept in check. Viewing the beauty of the night skies is among the most awe-inspiring of human experiences, and all people should be concerned that pollution is destroying that view.
Preventing an adverse environmental impact on dark skies must generally be addressed on a local level with judicious siting and communication with neighbors, local establishments, and local governments. Building awareness of the problems of light pollution and of possible solutions for achieving quality outdoor nighttime lighting will improve the nighttime environment for everyone—and generally reduce energy costs, too.
Global light sources proposed for space are an alarming prospect. Protecting against such worldwide incursions will require the cooperation of national and international professional societies as well as governments. The International Dark Sky Association is to be commended for bringing important issues like these before the public and supporting efforts to teach the principles of good lighting on the ground.
Posing yet another threat to astronomical observations, space debris generated by satellite launches, human activity in space, and inoperative hardware can become a major hazard for telescopes in space. NASA
and the professional societies should work toward developing international protocols to address this issue.
In addition, pressure toward increased commercial use of the electromagnetic spectrum is growing. The past two decades have seen a huge increase in the number of end users of already-popular applications, such as cell phones and the Global Positioning System, and an enormous variety of new applications continue to be introduced. The result has been significant contamination of much of the frequency space with unpredictable and broadband emissions from an array of communication devices. Although many applications of the radio spectrum provide a clear benefit for society, concern is growing about protecting observing conditions for radio astronomy, a uniquely powerful tool for studying the universe. The committee supports the efforts to deal with these important problems in several ways: better community relations and public information on the pollution problems; negotiations with violators on a case-by-case basis; and increased research oriented toward making radio telescopes less susceptible to interference (e.g., adaptive cancellation, filter technology, and high-spectral-efficiency modulation techniques). Specific technical issues are discussed in Chapters 4 (on radio astronomy) and 2 (on OIR astronomy) in the Panel Reports (NRC, 2001).
ISSUES OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The past decade saw an increase in the contingent of professional astronomers in the United States. The Space Telescope Science Institute’s (STScI’s) 1999 survey of astronomy (discussed in AAS CSWA, 2000) documented substantial growth in the field between 1992 and 1999—a 33 percent increase in the number of Ph.D. astronomers active in 32 U.S. departments of astronomy and in four observatories with equivalent science facilities. The number of astronomy Ph.D. recipients in the United States increased by 37 percent over the period from 1994 to 1997 to reach a total of 197 graduates in 1997 (NRC, 2000, Table G.1). This growth, reflecting the high interest of students in the astronomical sciences and the job opportunities that exist, contrasts with the declining number of graduates in physics (down by 11 percent) and chemistry (down by 6 percent) over the same period (NSF, 1999b).
A growing field presents opportunities to address areas in which professional development can be enhanced. On these subjects, the
committee received many helpful communications from the community. Praise was high for the NASA/STScI Hubble Fellowship program and the more recent, highly selective fellowships associated with the large NASA missions CGRO and Chandra. The recently instituted NSF CAREER program for young faculty appears to attract strong candidates who wish to integrate educational activities with their research and other professional responsibilities.
Several issues in professional training and development are worthy of comment: postdoctoral training, NASA’s Long-Term Space Astrophysics program, and the participation of women and minorities.
Postdoctoral fellowships play a critical role in the career path of most researchers in astronomy and astrophysics. Despite the great success and high visibility of the Hubble Fellowship program over the past decade, enhanced support of postdoctoral associates—both grant-funded and portable—is needed in many areas of astronomy and astrophysics, including ground-based astronomy, instrumentation, and theory. Given the investment in new facilities, it is vital to encourage talented young people to become involved in instrumentation. Since substantial resources are needed to build new instruments, the committee recommends that postdoctoral positions for instrumentation be associated with particular projects or facilities to ensure that the needed resources will be available.
The committee recommends a targeted program of portable postdoctoral fellowships in theoretical astrophysics, jointly supported by NASA and the NSF, as a high-leverage small initiative. The focus on theory reflects the committee’s strong belief that its ambitious recommended program of new facilities will be most effective if a small fraction of the investment is used to support talented young researchers who will expand—or perhaps tear down—the theoretical framework on which the design of these missions is predicated.
NASA’S LONG-TERM SPACE ASTROPHYSICS PROGRAM
One opportunity exists at NASA to receive research support over a 5-year period: the Long-Term Space Astrophysics (LTSA) program. Continuity of support for this period is highly regarded by the science
community because it enables research of adequate depth on a substantive issue in astronomy and astrophysics. A certain fraction of the grants has traditionally been set aside for scientists in the first stages of their careers so that they might establish a record of independent research in preparation for permanent or tenure-track positions. One study of the progress of junior LTSA scientists, however, indicated that this goal has not, in fact, been achieved:5 Junior LTSA scientists have been substantially less successful in obtaining tenure-track faculty positions than their peers with named fellowships, such as the Hubble fellowships. The committee therefore recommends that in the LTSA program the separation between senior and junior scientists be eliminated, and that the selection of grants be based solely on scientific merit.
WOMEN IN ASTRONOMY
In 1999 women constituted 21 percent of the active membership of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Each year between 1920 and 1995, women who earned Ph.D. degrees in astronomy represented 8 to 20 percent of the total astronomy Ph.D.s awarded (AAS CSWA, 1996; AAS, 1997). In the competition for NSF grants in astronomy over the decade from 1988 to 1997, the success rate of women exceeded that of men for 8 of the years. Assessment of the representation of women at various professional levels is based on the assumption that the pool of women astronomers corresponds to the percentages documented over the years for astronomy Ph.D. production. The 1999 STScI survey suggests that in 1999 a lower percentage of women (41 percent) than men (58 percent) advanced from graduate school to a postdoctoral position. Comparison by gender of those holding postdoctoral appointments in 1992 with those holding junior faculty appointments in 1999 suggests that men and women were selected at similar rates for entrylevel faculty positions. But women’s advancement to higher positions is no faster and apparently slower than men’s. Both the 1999 STScI survey and a 1999 AAS demographic survey (discussed in AAS CSWA, 2000) show that for astronomy faculty in U.S. institutions, women constitute 18 percent of the assistant professors, 13 percent of the associate professors, and only 6 percent of the full professors. While the fraction of women at the assistant and associate professor level reflects the Ph.D. production rate, that at the full professor level does not.
Astronomy is a relatively small discipline, making statistical study of the field’s demographics difficult. There are only 30 women astronomy
professors at 34 universities. However, studies across the physical sciences that include astronomy consistently show that men advance to senior positions more rapidly than women, even when starting from the same point, such as a prestigious NSF or NRC postdoctoral fellowship. This disparity does not appear to stem from any of the sociological factors that might distinguish women from men in current society; rather, the prevailing model is that women suffer from an accumulation of smaller disadvantages, which together result in longer time to tenure or to promotion to a full professorship, less pay compared with that for men who have similar credentials, and diminished representation at the top echelons of scientific society (Sonnert and Holton, 1996; Valian, 1998). A report on senior women on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) science faculty concluded that gender bias prevailed on that campus. The dean of science at MIT acknowledged that gender discrimination against senior women science faculty marginalized the women, undervalued their achievements, and excluded them from positions of power (MIT, 1999).
The astronomy community needs to understand why women are underrepresented in certain areas, and thorough studies of career patterns should be continued. The committee calls on the community, particularly those in leadership positions, to ensure equitable treatment of women in astronomy.
MINORITY SCIENTISTS IN ASTRONOMY
Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are underrepresented in the total U.S. science and engineering labor force. Blacks and Hispanics constitute 19 percent of the population and the total labor force, but only 8 percent of the science and engineering labor force (NSF, 1994).6 Furthermore, these groups constitute only 6 percent of science and engineering Ph.D. recipients in the United States, and less than 5 percent of those employed in academia (NSB, 1996; NSF, 1996, Table 3). Although the participation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in advanced high school mathematics classes increased between 1982 and 1994, their scores in standardized mathematics tests were still lower than those of other students, and the discrepancy did not diminish between 1990 and 1996 (NCES, 1996). Mathematics and science achievement at the K-12 level is critically important as a basis for further science and engineering study.
Currently, these minorities account for 4 percent of the AAS mem-
bership.7 Between 1986 and 1995, the fraction of astronomy Ph.D.s awarded to minority scientists ranged between 1 and 4 percent; over a 22-year period the average was 2 percent.8 The success rate of minority principal investigators in winning NSF AST grants is comparable to the rates for all women and men over the past 10-year period—minority scientists appear fully competitive in winning NSF grants.
To identify areas of concern and to foster mentoring and other opportunities for underrepresented minorities at all levels of experience, the AAS has established the Committee on the Status of Minorities. The importance of a strong K-12 mathematics and science education in fostering scientific and technical careers represents an opportunity for well-designed programs in astronomy to have a positive impact in attracting minorities to science. Astronomers could be significant role models and mentors for young minority scientists and students. The committee believes that providing all members of the community equal access to professional opportunities will yield the strongest science. Achieving this goal will require the efforts and the support of all members of the astronomical community.
ROLE OF PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES
The major astronomical societies active in the United States are the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Division of Astrophysics of the American Physical Society. They differ in their membership, activities, and goals, but each offers a valued resource to the astronomical community.
The American Astronomical Society, the society for professional astronomers in North America, contributes substantially to the progress of astronomy by publishing scholarly journals, organizing scientific meetings, and, more recently, expanding its focus on astronomers’ education and employment needs. Among all the scientific societies, the AAS has clearly taken the lead in communicating the results of its meetings to the public at large and has paved the way for the specialized divisions to follow suit. Responsive to the needs of the community, the AAS reviews and issues small research and travel grants (sponsored by the AAS, NASA, and the NSF), holds town meetings with agency representatives, and has recently demonstrated its leadership in preparing The American Astronomical Society’s Examination of Graduate Education in Astronomy (funded by the NSF; AAS, 1997). Activities at AAS meetings
concerning employment, classroom education, and public policy serve to inform astronomers and help them in meeting their professional responsibilities.
The AAS has encouraged and participated in the broad community discussion that produced this decadal consensus on the future of astronomy. Public forums at the AAS scientific meetings were invaluable in communicating with a broad range of astronomers; the Web site supported by the AAS produced discussion and a variety of ideas. In addition, membership information from the AAS data collection system complemented other data used in this report.
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is an organization of both professional and amateur astronomers that has developed a strong outreach and education program for amateur astronomers and the public. It is the largest general astronomy society in the world, with members from more than 70 nations. The ASP’s professional publications, a journal and a series of conference proceedings, are valuable resources for the astronomical community. Recently the ASP has focused on helping elementary school teachers use astronomy to excite children about careers in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (see Chapter 5). The ASP’s catalog (online at <www.aspsky.org/catalog.html>) is designed as an accessible resource to help teachers acquire lesson plans and demonstration materials for use in the classroom. The ASP also seeks to represent the astronomy instructors in 2-year colleges and junior colleges.
The American Physical Society’s (APS’s) Division of Astrophysics is dedicated to advancing and communicating knowledge of astrophysics and its relationship to the understanding of fundamental physical processes. It pays particular attention to linking astrophysics to nuclear and particle physics. The division convenes symposia in connection with APS meetings—for example, a symposium celebrating 100 years of astrophysics was held at the APS centennial meeting in 1999.
These professional societies also assist in identifying capable and visionary astronomers to meet the important challenges of working in short- and long-term positions at the federal agencies, particularly the NSF and NASA, where dedicated staff can have a significant effect on the progress of astronomy.
Action on several of the committee’s recommendations depends on the future participation and leadership of the AAS, ASP, and APS. The committee urges that the funding agencies recognize and support
specific activities of these broadly based professional organizations of astronomers.
The House of Representatives Committee on Science staff, citing 1997 authorization language for NSF, asked the NRC to respond to several questions, which were then divided between the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) and the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee (AASC). The questions for which the CAA was responsible are addressed in the NRC report Federal Funding of Astronomical Research (NRC, 2000). The AASC’s answers to its questions are implicit in the preceding discussions and recommendations and are presented explicitly here.
Have NASA and NSF mission objectives resulted in a balanced, broadbased, robust science program for astronomy? Have these overall missions been adequately coordinated and has this resulted in an optimum science program from a productivity standpoint?
Astronomy in the United States benefits from a vigorous program in space, coordinated by NASA, and a program of basic research and ground-based astronomy, led by the NSF. The DOE and other agencies contribute as well. The committee is generally pleased with the current and proposed ground- and space-based initiatives, which demonstrate that a robust and broadly based program is in place.
Balance among various components of the program, however, remains a concern of the astronomical community. A large portion of the total support for astronomy is now tied to a few flagship missions of NASA. The committee shares the concern, expressed in the report Federal Funding of Astronomical Research (NRC, 2000), that this arrangement leaves the program susceptible to a catastrophic mission failure. The committee’s recommendation for a diverse range of missions addresses this issue to some extent.
To create a better balance between NASA and the NSF, the committee has made several recommendations to strengthen the ground-based program:
National and independent observatories should be viewed as integrated systems—one for ground-based OIR astronomy, one for ground-based solar astronomy, and one for radio astronomy—of capabilities and resources for the United States as a whole. This approach leverages the private contributions to astronomy and positions the nation well for science opportunities in the international arena.
Funds for grants should be included in the budgets of new ground-based facilities for their first 5 years of operation.
The NSF should take more initiative in sharing the achievements of its scientists with the public, just as NASA does.
The NSF should work with other agencies and with the astronomical community to build interagency programs that will aggressively pursue astronomical problems of broad national interest.
What special strategies are needed for strategic cooperation between NASA and NSF? Should these be included in agency strategic plans?
Coordination between NASA and the NSF can be advantageous because (1) the sheer scale of many modern astronomical investigations requires a coordinated national, if not international, effort; (2) the enormous increase in technical, computer, and Web-based capability reduces the barriers to cooperation; and (3) the growing sophistication of researchers’ investigations implies that coordination across wavelength bands and across disciplines is required to produce a deeper and more fundamental understanding of the objects and processes under study. Interagency cooperation and joint projects between NASA and different divisions of NSF can initiate new scientific opportunities (e.g., GONG and SOHO-MDI in helioseismology) and capitalize on the NSF’s many resources in research, engineering, and education. Successful collaborations between NASA and the NSF have focused on specific science issues in activities such as the Shoemaker-Levy Jupiter Collision and Life in Extreme Environments programs. All the scientific themes identified by the committee as being ripe for progress in this decade can be addressed by both ground- and space-based facilities, opening the way for additional NSF and NASA cooperation. Furthermore, the committee has recommended that the National Virtual Observatory and the National Astrophysical Theory Postdoctoral Program be jointly funded by NASA and the NSF.
In addition to NASA and the NSF, DOE sponsors research in astrophysics to address fundamental problems linked especially to particle
physics, nuclear physics, and cosmology. Collaborations among these agencies are most effective when they are driven by specific scientific programs and when each agency contributes the special expertise of its area. Each agency can recognize its own unique capabilities and those of related agencies, and each should initiate the steps toward collaborations that it believes will be fruitful. Each agency should have a strategic plan for astronomy and astrophysics in place and should also have cross-disciplinary committees (such as DOE and NSF’s Scientific Assessment Group for Experiments in Non-Accelerator Physics [SAGENAP] and NASA’s Space Science Advisory Committee [SSAC]) available to evaluate major collaborative activities in astrophysics. The CAA should provide oversight from the NRC. The committee has recommended that these agencies should work together and with the astronomical community to build new interagency programs that will address astronomical problems of broad national interest. The traditional broker for interagency cooperation, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, could play a constructive role in facilitating the necessary coordination.
How do NASA and NSF determine the relative priority of new technological opportunities (including new facilities) compared to providing long-term support for associated research grants and facility operations?
At present NASA and the NSF differ in their approach to supporting new facilities, research grants, and facility operations. NASA is charged with developing scientific opportunities in space, and providing frequent access to space remains a paramount goal. With that framework, and with the aid of the scientific community, NASA has developed four scientific themes. Missions to develop these themes are budgeted with a total cost that includes construction, mission operations, and data analysis as one package in the mission’s prime phase; the funding level for operations and data analysis during the mission’s subsequent extended phase is determined by competitive review among all operating missions (NASA’s Senior Review process). NSF AST supports facilities with the major share of its budget, and only recently has it developed a strategic plan. The University Grants program of the NSF supports investigator-initiated basic research that covers all of astronomy and astrophysics. When scientific opportunities are compelling, new facilities may be developed in ground-based astronomy. The NSF allots its construction monies through a major research equipment account line, distinct from the grants and operations accounts. Frequently, provision of funds to
capitalize on the astronomy made possible by new facilities is neglected, preventing the new facilities from reaching their full potential and squeezing the NSF AST grants program. In both cases basic research suffers.
The committee believes that the NSF astronomy program would be strengthened if the budgeting and operations procedure were changed to include adequate funds for operations, instrumentation, and grants associated with each new facility. In addition the committee proposes cross-disciplinary competitive reviews of major ground-based facilities to evaluate the allocation of resources, with the aim of optimizing the scientific return on the nation’s investment in astronomy and astrophysics.