The Space Studies Board (SSB) is a unit of the National Research Council's Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (DEPS), and it reports to the Division for oversight. DEPS is one of six major program units of the NRC through which the institution conducts its operations on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Within DEPS there are a total of 14 boards that cover a broad range of physical science and engineering disciplines and mission areas.
Members of the Division's Committee on Engineering and Physical Sciences review recommendations for Board membership, advise on proposed new projects to be undertaken by the Board or its committees, and coordinate completion of the process of responding to external reviews of selected Board reports. On a triennial basis, the Division also conducts a review of the overall operations of each of its boards. The next review of the SSB is planned for 2001.
The Board meets three times per year to review the activities of its committees and task groups and to be briefed on and discuss major space policy issues. An internal executive committee composed of eight at-large members of the Board meets at least once a year and may convene via conference call at other times to plan for SSB activities and to advise the chair between meetings. All projects proposed to be conducted by standing committees or ad hoc task groups must first be reviewed and approved by the Board or its executive committee. The Board also reviews all draft reports developed by its committees and task groups before the reports go into external NRC review.
The SSB provides an independent, authoritative forum for information and advice on all aspects of space science and applications. The Board conducts advisory studies and program assessments, facilitates international research coordination, and promotes communications on space science and science policy between the research community, the federal government, and the interested public.
The Board's overall advisory charter is implemented through three key functions: discipline oversight, interdisciplinary studies, and international activities.
The Board has responsibility for scientific 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 scientific objectives, as well as independent assessments 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. Ad hoc organizational arrangements address agency requests for broader space policy or organizational guidance. 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. 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 Board recognizes a need for crosscutting technical and policy studies in several important areas. To accomplish these objectives, the Board creates standing cross-disciplinary committees, internal committees, or ad hoc task groups. The Board also organizes topical workshops and exercises the NRC's convening function in other special activities.