In 1988, the Space Science Board undertook a series of retreats to review its structure and charter. These retreats were motivated by the Board’s desire to update its structure and activities and by its assumption of a major portion of the responsibilities of the disestablished NRC Space Applications Board. As a result of these retreats, a number of new task groups and committees were formed, and several existing committees were disbanded and their portfolios distributed to other committees. In addition, since civilian space research involves federal agencies other than NASA (for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Departments of Energy and Defense, and the National Science Foundation (NSF)), it was decided to place an increased emphasis on broadening the Board’s advisory outreach.
The Board’s charter is implemented through four key functions: discipline oversight, interdisciplinary studies, international activities, and advisory outreach.
The Board has responsibility for strategic planning and oversight in the basic subdisciplines of space research. This responsibility is discharged through a structure of standing discipline committees and includes preparation of strategic research plans and prioritization of objectives, as well as independent assessment of progress in these disciplines. The standard vehicle for providing long-term research guidance is the research strategy report, which has been used successfully by the Board and its committees over many years. In addition, committees periodically prepare formal assessment reports that examine progress in their disciplines in comparison with published Board advice. From time to time, in response to a sponsor or Board request or to circumstances requiring prompt and focused comment, a committee may prepare and submit a short, or “letter,” report. Agency requests for broader space policy or organizational guidance are addressed by suitable ad hoc organizational arrangements and appropriate final documentation. Other special agency requests that require responses synchronized with the federal budget cycle are relayed to standing committees for action or are taken up by ad hoc task groups. All committee reports undergo Board and NRC review and approval prior to publication and are issued formally as reports of the NRC and the Board.
Individual discipline committees may be called upon by the Board to prepare specialized material for use by either the Board or its interdisciplinary committees or task groups.
Although the emphasis over the years has been on discipline planning and evaluation, the reorganization of the Board recognized a need for cross-cutting technical and policy studies in several important areas. To accomplish these objectives, the Board creates internal committees and ad hoc task groups. Internal committees, constituted entirely of appointed Board members, are formed to conduct short-duration studies or to lay the planning groundwork for subsequent formation of a regular committee or task group. Task groups resemble standing discipline committees in structure and operation, except that they have predefined lifetimes, typically one to three years, and more narrowly bounded charters. The Board also organizes topical workshops and exercises the NRC’s convening function in other special activities.
The Board continues to serve as the U.S. National Committee for the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). In this capacity, the Board participates in a broad variety of COSPAR panels and committees. The Board continues as the U.S. National Committee, and a member of the Board’s staff serves as executive secretary for this office.
As the economic and political integration of Europe evolves, so also does the integration of Europe’s space activities. The Board has successfully collaborated with the European space research community on a number of ad