Summary

NASA’s space and Earth science missions have achieved an extraordinary record of accomplishments during the 50-year history of the space age. Spacecraft have provided in-depth, global observations of Earth’s land surface, biosphere, cryosphere, oceans, and atmosphere; unraveled many mysteries about the behavior of the Sun and its influence on Earth and other solar system bodies; explored planets, comets, and asteroids and approached the region where the solar system interacts with the local interstellar medium; and carried astronomical observatories above Earth’s atmosphere to permit studies of the cosmos across the full electromagnetic spectrum. Much of the success of these spaceflight missions has been due to an underlying foundation of mission-enabling research and technology. Mission-enabling activities have framed the scientific questions on which plans for the flight missions have been based; developed advanced technologies that have made new, complex missions feasible; provided supporting terrestrial facilities and observations necessary to complement and interpret spaceflight data; and synthesized and translated the data from spaceflight missions into new scientific understanding.

In 2007 Congress called for the National Research Council (NRC) to examine issues regarding balance between mission-enabling activities and spaceflight missions, and this report presents the conclusions of the NRC Committee on the Role and Scope of Mission-Enabling Activities in NASA’s Space and Earth Science Missions, which was organized to undertake that task. The committee defined mission-enabling activities to be the ensemble of non-spaceflight-mission-specific programs that create the scientific and technological expertise and associated infrastructure necessary to define, execute, and benefit from the spaceflight missions. (See Box S.1.) In some cases these activities can lead directly to significant scientific accomplishments that advance the strategic goals of NASA without being linked to a spaceflight mission. All of these activities are managed by four science divisions—astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, and Earth science—within the NASA headquarters Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The same SMD divisions also manage the spaceflight missions for the corresponding scientific discipline areas.

Chapter 1 of this report discusses each of the purposes of mission-enabling activities, relates them to specific elements of SMD’s programs, and provides examples of how mission-enabling activities have contributed to NASA space and Earth science programs. These activities play essential roles in maximizing the scientific return on investment in space and Earth science spaceflight missions and in providing a foundation for an effective and robust program for the future, and they also constitute an integral part of the nation’s overall research and development (R&D) effort. Therefore, the committee’s first major finding and recommendation are as follows:



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Summary NASA’s space and Earth science missions have achieved an extraordinary record of accomplishments during the 50-year history of the space age. Spacecraft have provided in-depth, global observations of Earth’s land surface, biosphere, cryosphere, oceans, and atmosphere; unraveled many mysteries about the behavior of the Sun and its influence on Earth and other solar system bodies; explored planets, comets, and asteroids and approached the region where the solar system interacts with the local interstellar medium; and carried astronomical observatories above Earth’s atmosphere to permit studies of the cosmos across the full electromagnetic spectrum. Much of the success of these spaceflight missions has been due to an underlying foundation of mission-enabling research and technol - ogy. Mission-enabling activities have framed the scientific questions on which plans for the flight missions have been based; developed advanced technologies that have made new, complex missions feasible; provided supporting terrestrial facilities and observations necessary to complement and interpret spaceflight data; and synthesized and translated the data from spaceflight missions into new scientific understanding. In 2007 Congress called for the National Research Council (NRC) to examine issues regarding balance between mission-enabling activities and spaceflight missions, and this report presents the conclusions of the NRC Committee on the Role and Scope of Mission-Enabling Activities in NASA’s Space and Earth Science Missions, which was organized to undertake that task. The committee defined mission-enabling activities to be the ensemble of non-spaceflight-mission-specific programs that create the scientific and technological expertise and associated infrastructure necessary to define, execute, and benefit from the spaceflight missions. (See Box S.1.) In some cases these activities can lead directly to significant scientific accomplishments that advance the strategic goals of NASA without being linked to a spaceflight mission. All of these activities are managed by four science divi - sions—astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, and Earth science—within the NASA headquarters Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The same SMD divisions also manage the spaceflight missions for the corresponding scientific discipline areas. Chapter 1 of this report discusses each of the purposes of mission-enabling activities, relates them to specific elements of SMD’s programs, and provides examples of how mission-enabling activities have contributed to NASA space and Earth science programs. These activities play essential roles in maximizing the scientific return on invest - ment in space and Earth science spaceflight missions and in providing a foundation for an effective and robust program for the future, and they also constitute an integral part of the nation’s overall research and development (R&D) effort. Therefore, the committee’s first major finding and recommendation are as follows: 

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 AN ENABLING FOUNDATION FOR NASA’S EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE MISSIONS BOX S.1 Defining Mission-Enabling Activities NASA’s space and Earth science program comprises two principal components: 1. Spaceflight projects, including the design, development, launch, and operations of Earth-orbiting and deep-space missions, and 2. Activities that are not dedicated to a single specific spaceflight mission but that provide a broad enabling foundation for NASA’s scientific spaceflight projects. The committee refers to this latter component as mission-enabling activities. The principal purposes of mission-enabling activities are to provide • A knowledge base that allows NASA and the scientific community to explore new frontiers in research and to identify, define, and design cost-effective space and Earth science missions required to address the strategic goals of the agency; • A wide range of technologies that enable NASA and the scientific community to equip and conduct spaceflight missions to pursue the agency’s scientific goals; and • A robust, experienced technical workforce to plan, develop, conduct, and utilize the scientific missions. NASA’s principal programs to accomplish these purposes are as follows: • Research projects (especially via the research and analysis grants programs) and special research facilities (including suborbital flight payloads and operations, ground-based telescopes and dedicated labo- ratories, and high-end computer systems and data archives); • Development of advanced sensors, research instruments, and spaceflight mission system technologies; • General data analysis (including archival data studies and synthesis of new and/or long-term data sets from multiple spaceflight missions); and • Earth science applications (including research to apply NASA Earth science results to fields such as agriculture, ecology, and public health and safety). Finding 1. The mission-enabling activities in SMD—including support for scientific research and research infra - structure, advanced technology development, and scientific and technical workforce development—are fundamen - tally important to NASA and to the nation. Recommendation 1. 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 interpreting 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.

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 SUMMARY OPPORTuNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT During its review of SMD’s mission-enabling activities the committee identified aspects of current approaches to managing science division research and technology portfolios where proven practices did not appear to be widely or adequately applied and where there appear to be opportunities for improvement so that mission-enabling activities can most effectively fulfill their roles. (See Chapter 2.) An effectively structured program would have the following attributes: 1. Mission-enabling activities, and the criteria for establishing their priorities and resource allocations, that are clearly traceable to division mission statements and strategic goals. 2. Portfolio allocations based on systematic criteria and metrics of program effectiveness. 3. Continual interaction with and assessment by the science community via a well-structured advisory apparatus. 4. Transparent budget structure in which all mission-enabling activities are aggregated into visible budget lines so as to facilitate more effective portfolio management decisions and communication about the value and impacts of mission-enabling programs. 5. Explicit statement of the role of mission-enabling activities in sustaining a capable technical workforce in the overall program strategy. 6. Adequate staff to devote an appropriate amount of time to the responsibilities of properly managing mis - sion-enabling activities. PRINCIPLES AND METRICS FOR EFFECTIVE MISSION-ENABLING PORTFOLIOS The committee was charged to make recommendations regarding portfolio allocation criteria and metrics of program effectiveness. In addressing this task, the central roles of mission-enabling activities enumerated in Recommendation 1 provide the basis for guiding principles to be considered in planning, conducting, and evalu - ating the program. Workable metrics also need to be framed and applied from the perspective of the following implementation principles: 1. Investment needs will be different across SMD divisions. Each SMD science division has distinct stra - tegic goals, different kinds of spaceflight missions, and different dependencies on supporting research and data analysis. 2. Division-level mission statements should clearly articulate the division’s strategic priorities and should provide a rational framework for assessing how the division’s portfolio ensures support for the full range of activities. 3. Balance between mission-enabling and spaceflight mission portfolios is never rigid. The principle of bal - ance does not mean using a fixed ratio across all programs; it does not mean that all components of an overall program should receive equal funding; and it need not be constant over time. 4. Programmatic relationships of mission-enabling activities to spaceflight programs should be clearly com - municated so that mission-enabling portfolios can be effectively prioritized and managed. 5. Balance within portfolios requires active management. Determining whether investments are appropriately balanced within schedule and budget constraints to achieve the intended near-, mid-, and far-term goals and objec - tives requires continuing assessment. 6. Budget transparency enhances active management by facilitating analysis, advocacy, and stability. Performance metrics are essential tools for making effective portfolio management decisions. Establishing metrics for each component of mission-enabling activities also helps inform the administration, Congress, and the science community of the purpose of the component and the extent to which it is being successful. Such transpar- ency, when properly established, provides justification for the essential roles of mission-enabling activities in the success of SMD, while also allowing the broad national science community to engage with NASA in providing

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 AN ENABLING FOUNDATION FOR NASA’S EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE MISSIONS the most effective mission-enabling program. The committee presents the following template for what should be provided by a metric for each of an SMD division’s mission-enabling activities: 1. A simple statement of what the component of the mission-enabling activity is intended to accomplish and how it supports the strategic or tactical plans of the division. 2. A statement as to how the component is to accomplish its task. 3. An evaluation of the success of the activity relative to the stated mission, unexpected benefits, and lessons learned. 4. A justification for the resource allocation that is being applied to the component vis-à-vis other mission- enabling activities within the division. This report discusses examples of how this template could be applied to the different, individual kinds of mission-enabling activities. MAXIMIZING PROGRAM EFFECTIVENESS VIA STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT The committee identified several elements of an effective portfolio management approach that NASA offi - cials should consider as they address concerns identified in the committee’s assessment of the mission-enabling programs. The committee’s second and third findings and recommendations address these items. Finding 2. Adoption of an active portfolio management approach is the key to providing an effective program of mission-enabling activities that will satisfy the intent of this committee’s first finding and recommendation. Recommendation 2. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate should develop and implement an approach to actively managing its portfolio of mission-enabling activities. Active portfolio management should include the following elements: • Clearly defined science division mission-enabling mission statements, objectives, strategies, and priorities that can be traced back to the overall strategic goals of NASA, SMD, and the division. • Flexibility to accommodate differences in the scientific missions and programmatic options that are most appropriate to the different science discipline divisions. • Clearly articulated relationships between mission-enabling activities and the ensemble of ongoing and future spaceflight missions that they support. • Clear metrics that permit program managers to relate mission-enabling activities to strategic goals, evaluate the effectiveness of mission-enabling activities, and make informed decisions about priori - ties, programmatic needs, and portfolio balance. • Provisions for integrating support for innovative high-risk/high-payoff research and technology, interdisciplinary research, and scientific and technical workforce development into mission-enabling program strategies. • Active involvement of the scientific community via an open and robust advisory committee process. • Transparent budgets that permit program managers to effectively manage mission-enabling activity portfolios and permit other decision makers and the research community to understand the content of mission-enabling activity programs. Finding 3. The NASA SMD headquarters scientific and technical staff is not adequately sized to manage mis - sion-enabling activities effectively.

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 SUMMARY Recommendation 3. NASA should increase the number of scientifically and technically capable program officers so that they can devote an appropriate level of attention to the tasks of actively managing the portfolio of research and technology development that enables a world-class space and Earth science program. In making this recommendation the committee is convinced that having mission-enabling program managers divide their time between mission-enabling activities and duties related to spaceflight programs is desirable and that management of mission-enabling activities is properly a NASA headquarters, not a NASA field center, function.

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