Based on its current budget request and future funding proposals, NASA's
science programs can neither be considered robust nor sustainable, an
expert National Research Council panel has concluded. It calls for NASA
to "move immediately" to correct the funding imbalances in
its small missions and research and analysis programs; to preserve important
microgravity, life and physical sciences research needed for long-duration
human spaceflight; to better evaluate the costs of current science missions;
and to seek input on these issues from the science community through
its advisory committees "as soon as possible." It further
calls on Congress and the Administration to recognize and address the
"mismatch" between NASA's responsibilities and its available
resources, and urges that science funds be isolated so that they are
not used to make up shortfalls in the human spaceflight program.
The panel's report, released on May 4, finds that at the time the president's
space exploration initiative was announced in 2004, NASA's space and
Earth science programs "were projected to grow robustly from about
$5.5 billion in 2004 to about $7 billion in 2008." But, it says,
NASA's current plans for those programs "differ markedly from planning
assumptions of only 2 years ago." The FY 2007 request for the Science
Mission Directorate is approximately $200 million less than the FY 2004
appropriation, and NASA proposes cutting the directorate's total available
funding in the 2007-2011 period by $3.1 billion below what was projected
in last year's budget request. Additionally, the report notes that between
the FY 2006 projection and the FY 2007 request, some funds that had
been designated for the Science Mission and Exploration Systems Mission
Directorates were shifted to the Space Operations Mission Directorate
"to compensate for the projected shortfall in support for the shuttle
and the ISS [International Space Station] programs."
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin testified on Capitol Hill this spring
that NASA "cannot afford to do everything that our many constituents"
want it to, and that his highest priorities were to keep the shuttle
operating while developing a Crew Exploration Vehicle and to complete
the space station (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/034.html).
The NRC report's findings and associated recommendations are summarized
FINDING 1. "NASA is being asked to accomplish too much
with too little."
RECOMMENDATION 1. "Both the executive and the legislative
branches of the federal government need to seriously examine the mismatch
between the tasks assigned to NASA and the resources that the agency
has been provided to accomplish them and should identify actions that
will make the agency's portfolio of responsibilities sustainable."
FINDING 2. "The program proposed for space and Earth sciences
is not robust; it is not properly balanced to support a healthy mix
of small, moderate-sized, and large missions and an underlying foundation
of scientific research and advanced technology projects; and it is neither
sustainable nor capable of making adequate progress toward the goals
that were recommended in the National Research Council's decadal surveys."
RECOMMENDATION 2. "NASA should move immediately to correct
the problems caused by reductions in the base of research and analysis
programs, small missions, and initial technology work on future missions
before the essential pipeline of human capital and technology is irrevocably
disrupted." If at all possible, the report says, the restoration
of these programs "should be accomplished with additional funding
for science." It adds, "Given the funding shortages associated
with elements of the human spaceflight program, the committee further
urges that funding for science...be isolated from other NASA accounts
to insure that the money is actually spent on science."
FINDING 3. "The microgravity life and physical sciences
programs of NASA have suffered severe cutbacks that will lead to major
reductions in the ability of scientists in these areas to contribute
to NASA's goals of long-duration human spaceflight."
RECOMMENDATION 3. "Every effort should be made to preserve"the
research required for long-duration human spaceflight and to maintain
a viable research community to produce "the essential knowledge
required to execute the human spaceflight goals of the Vision."
FINDING 4. The major space and Earth science missions "are
being executed at costs well in excess" of the cost estimates in
the relevant NRC decadal surveys, leading to disruption of "the
orderly planning process" and the balance across small, medium
and large missions.
RECOMMENDATION 4. "NASA should undertake independent, systematic,
and comprehensive evaluations of the cost-to-complete of each of its
space and Earth science missions that are under development."
FINDING 5. "A past strength of the NASA science programs...has
been the intimate involvement of the scientific community. Some of the
current mismatch between the NASA plans for the next 5 years and a balanced
and robust program stems from the lack of an effective internal advisory
structure at the level of NASA's mission directorates."
RECOMMENDATION 5. "NASA should engage with its reconstituted
advisory committees as soon as possible" to determine "the
proper balance among large, medium, and small missions, and research
and analysis programs," and for feedback on the reviews called
for in Recommendation 4.
"NASA's proposed fiscal 2007 budget provides inadequate funding
for earth and space science and in particular gives short shrift to
the smaller projects that are necessary to keep science progressing
and to train new scientists," House Science Committee Chairman
Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said in response to the report. "We should
not be satisfied with a fiscal 2007 budget that provides less for science
than was provided in fiscal 2005."
The report, by the NRC Committee on an Assessment of Balance in NASA's
Science Programs, can be read online or ordered at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11644.html.