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Space Studies Board Annual Report 1995
3.6Managing the Space Sciences
A Report of the Committee on the Future of Space Science1
In April 1994 the National Research Council received a request from NASA Administrator Daniel S.Goldin that the NRC’s Space Studies Board provide guidance on several questions relating to the management of NASA’s programs in the space sciences.2 The issues raised in the Administrator’s request closely reflect questions posed in the agency’s fiscal year 1994 Senate appropriations report. These questions included the following:
Should all the NASA space science programs be gathered into a “National Institute for Space Science”?
What other organizational changes might be made to improve the coordination and oversight of NASA space science programs?
What processes should be used for establishing interdisciplinary science priorities based on scientific merit and other criteria, while ensuring opportunities for newer fields and disciplines to emerge?
What steps could be taken to improve utilization of advanced technologies in future science missions?
Since the creation of NASA in 1958, space science has been a key element of its mission. Indeed, the Augustine Committee report,3 submitted at the end of 1990, asserted that science was NASA’s most important mission. The committee responsible for the present report has proceeded on the same premise. A balanced and healthy program of space science is crucial to the future of NASA, regardless of the overall level of support available to the agency.
The most important recommendations of this report are listed below. They are further elaborated following the list.
NASA should not establish a “National Institute for Space Science” that would pull together the three present science program offices.
NASA should augment the responsibilities and authorities of the NASA Chief Scientist.
NASA should establish a set of fair, open, and understandable processes to be used in the prioritization of space science research. These processes will ensure that major project proposals considered at progressively higher levels within the agency have the heritage of scientific merit that comes from a successful confrontation with competing proposals at lower levels.
NASA should create a comprehensive strategy and plan for the technologies that support the space sciences, with the responsibility for near-term technology development residing in the science programs to be served and the responsibility for longer-term technology strategy and development residing in the Office of Space Access and Technology.
NASA should change the funding of its field centers to full-cost accounting (“industrial funding”). Cost accounting should be based on full program costs, including civil service salaries. The committee endorses NASA’s intentions to move in this direction.
NASA should exercise caution in downsizing its Headquarters staff and transferring functions to the centers; this process could be carried too far and have unintended consequences. The committee identified a number of areas where it believes control should be retained at Headquarters.
NASA science budgets should include a limited amount of dedicated funding for innovative ideas in high-risk, high-return areas lying outside the current framework of inquiry or design.
NASA should take a cautious approach to the recently proposed establishment of focused science institutes. There should be a well-defined process for their selection and creation, and a clear plan for the phased transfer of base funds to programmatic funding.
“Executive Summary” reprinted from Managing the Space Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995, pp. 1–4.
In this report, “space sciences” refers to all of NASA’s science programs conducted in or from space, including space astronomy, space physics, planetary exploration, microgravity research, space life sciences, and Earth science.
Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, December 1990.