The Week of August 6

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Start your week fully informed with a preview of what's ahead in science policy and funding along with a recap of last week's news.

The Week of August 6

The Week Ahead

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Parker Solar Probe

On July 11, Astrotech Space Operations fitted the Parker Solar Probe to a third-stage rocket, which, combined with the thrust of a Delta IV-Heavy rocket, will provide the speed needed to achieve a tight orbit around the Sun. The mission’s planned trajectory requires about 55 times as much energy at liftoff as a mission to Mars. Over the course of its mission, the probe will conduct multiple flybys of Venus, ultimately bringing it within nine solar radii of the Sun’s surface.

(Image credit – NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman)

Flagship NASA Mission Ready for Journey into Sun’s Corona

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch on Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, which is to last almost seven years, will study the Sun’s atmosphere by flying directly through it, operating far closer to the solar surface than any previous mission. It is among the most expensive science missions in NASA’s current portfolio, with an estimated lifecycle cost of $1.5 billion. Developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), it has so far proceeded on time and budget. Because the probe requires a precise, high-speed trajectory to bring it so close to the Sun, launch opportunities are fleeting. Should it miss its current launch window, which lasts until Aug. 23, the next opportunity will not open until May 2019. Following the launch, project scientist Nicky Fox will leave APL to take over as director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division.

National Academies to Release Planetary Science Priorities Update

On Tuesday, the National Academies will release its midterm assessment of its most recent planetary science decadal survey, which covers the period from 2013 to 2022. Decadal surveys are a mechanism that NASA and other federal science agencies use to gauge the research priorities of the scientific community and aid in the selection and design of science projects. Midterm assessments take stock of progress made since the survey’s release and make recommendations about how its priorities should be implemented moving forward. In 2011, the planetary science decadal survey recommended three large-scale missions for NASA to pursue: the first phase of a Mars sample return program, an orbiter to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, and an orbiter and probe to study Uranus. At present, NASA is developing its Mars 2020 mission and preparing for two missions to Europa. A Uranus mission is not currently in formulation.

AMS Meeting Focusing on Future of the Weather Enterprise

Weather community leaders from academia, industry, and government are convening this Tuesday and Wednesday for the American Meteorological Society’s 2018 Summer Community Meeting in Boulder, Colorado. The theme this year is “Expanding the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise’s Global Impact Through Enhanced Collaboration.” On Tuesday, the National Academies Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate is hosting a special workshop to discuss a study it is developing that aims to “create a shared vision for the next generation U.S. weather enterprise.” Among the workshop panelists will be National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean; Global Weather Corporation Chief Technology Officer Bill Gail; and AMS President Roger Wakimoto. Neil Jacobs, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, will be giving a keynote address. The meeting will be webcast.

In Case You Missed It

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Kelvin Droegemeier and France Córdova

Kelvin Droegemeier and NSF Director France Córdova at her swearing-in ceremony in 2014.

(Image credit – NSF / Sandy Schaeffer)

Meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier Picked to Direct White House Science Office

On Aug. 1, President Trump announced his intention to nominate University of Oklahoma meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. An expert in the modeling and prediction of severe storms, Droegemeier also has an extensive background in science policy. He served from 2004 to 2016 as a member of the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation, including four years as its vice chair. Last year, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) appointed him to her cabinet as the state’s secretary of science and technology. He has also served as vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma since 2009. Leaders across the scientific community have welcomed his selection. It is not yet clear to what extent he will serve as science and technology advisor to the president, a role the OSTP director has traditionally performed.

White House Releases Annual R&D Priorities Memo

On July 31, the White House issued a memorandum to federal agencies that identifies R&D areas they should prioritize in formulating the administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2020. Jointly produced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, the memo elaborates on priorities identified in last year’s version and includes new sections dedicated to advanced computing, space exploration, manufacturing, agriculture, and technology transfer. It also reiterates the administration’s view that agencies should focus on “basic and early-stage applied research.”

National Quantum Initiative Bills Advances in Senate With Significant Changes

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced legislation to establish a 10-year National Quantum Initiative (NQI) by a voice vote on Aug. 1 after making several significant changes to the House’s version of the bill through an amendment by Committee Chair John Thune (R-SD). Whereas the House bill provides a fixed total of $50 million per year to support up to five National Science Foundation quantum research centers, the Senate bill sets the annual authorized funding equal to the number of centers created multiplied by $10 million. The amendment also reduces the NQI funding authorization for the National Institute of Standards and Technology from $80 million per year to $60 million per year. Most significantly, the modified bill states the funding is “authorized to be appropriated,” whereas the House version specifies that the funding “shall” be allocated as directed. Prior to the bill markup, the American Physical Society, an AIP Member Society, expressed “strong concerns” to the committee about the NQI funding mechanism used in the House bill, arguing it would divert funding from other research areas if the agencies do not receive increases to their base budgets. The bills now await floor consideration in both chambers.

Senate Committee Looks to Future of NASA's Science Portfolio

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a subcommittee hearing on Aug. 1 dedicated to NASA’s efforts to search for signs of life on other planets in the solar system and beyond. It was also the second in a planned series of hearings leading up to the introduction of a comprehensive NASA policy bill. A subject that arose repeatedly was the implications of the James Webb Space Telescope’s history of cost and schedule overruns. Princeton University astrophysicist David Spergel urged that the cost of the latest delays not fall solely on NASA’s Astrophysics Division because it would have a “devastating effect on its future missions and its scientific program.” Looking further into the future, the hearing also considered possible improvements to the decadal survey process that aids NASA in setting priorities. MIT astrophysicist and planetary scientist Sara Seager suggested the process currently favors overly complex missions as a way to satisfy as many needs of the scientific community as possible. Spergel recommended that mission concepts be studied more thoroughly before decadal surveys begin, as NASA is currently doing in preparation for the upcoming astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey.

Congress Sends Annual Defense Policy Bill to Trump

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act on Aug. 1 on a vote of 87 to 10, sending it to President Trump for his signature. This year, the annual defense policy bill is named after Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee but has been absent from Congress since last year as he undergoes cancer treatment in his home state. In a statement, McCain praised House and Senate leaders’ speed in moving the bill, observing it is the earliest Congress has passed it in more than 40 years. As always, the bill contains numerous provisions relating to R&D and defense technologies, which FYI will summarize in a forthcoming bulletin.

NSTC Physical Sciences Subcommittee Holds Kickoff Meeting

The National Science and Technology Council’s Physical Sciences Subcommittee held its first meeting during the Trump administration last week with a focus on discussing federal agency efforts in high energy physics, fusion energy, and low-dose radiation research. Although the subcommittee existed during the Obama administration, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act enacted in early 2017 tasked the panel with specific responsibilities in those three research areas. The subcommittee is co-chaired by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation.

Some Spending ‘Minibuses’ Move Forward, Others Still Stalled

On a vote of 92 to 6 last week, the Senate sent a four-bill “minibus” appropriations package that includes funding for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency to the House. The House has already passed a separate bill that also includes funding for those agencies. The Senate now plans to take up a two-bill minibus that includes funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department. Meanwhile, negotiations between the House and Senate on a separate three-bill minibus that includes funding for the Department of Energy have stalled. Among the issues presenting difficulties are House proposals to reopen the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and continue construction of a plutonium reprocessing facility in South Carolina.

Events this week

All times are Eastern Daylight Time, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.

Monday, August 6

DOD: Defense Science Board meeting (continues through Friday)
Beckman Center (Irvine, CA)
Closed to the public

National Academies: “Review of Governance Reform in the National Nuclear Security Administration,” meeting 24
10:00 am - 3:30 pm, Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

NASA: National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board teleconference
12:00 - 4:00 pm

Tuesday, August 7

AMS: 2018 Summer Community Meeting (continues Wednesday)
8:00 am - 8:30 pm, Tue; 9:00 am - 4:30 pm, Wed
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, CO)
Webcast available

DOD: Space and Missile Defense Symposium (continues through Thursday)
Von Braun Center (Huntsville, Alabama)

Wednesday, August 8

National Academies: “Assessing the Capital Needs of the National Institutes of Health Main Campus” meeting 3 (continues Thursday)
Open sessions: 10:30 am - 2:00 pm, Wed; 11:00 - 11:45 am, Thu
Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

National Academies: “Review of the SBIR and STTR Programs at DOE,” meeting three (continues Thursday)
University Club (Chicago, IL)

Thursday, August 9

ASU CSPO: “National Priorities for Adapting to Global Warming”
 8:30 - 10:30 am, ASU Washington Center (1800 1 St. NW, DC)

Friday, August 10

No events start today.

Know of an upcoming science policy event? Email us at fyi@aip.org.

Opportunities

AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship Application Now Open

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is accepting applications for 2019-2020 S&T Policy Fellowship. Fellows spend a year at a federal agency or congressional office in Washington, D.C., gaining experience in the policymaking process. Interested applicants must have a Ph.D. or equivalent-level degree or a M.S. in engineering with three years of engineering experience in order to qualify. Applications are due Nov. 1.

NOAA Seeking Public Comment on Strategic Plan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is holding a number of public listening sessions to support the Department of Commerce’s strategic plan for 2018 to 2022. One focal area NOAA is seeking feedback on is the implementation of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, including the development of a community-based weather model. Other focal areas include reducing the seafood trade deficit and supporting maritime commerce, fisheries, recreation, and tourism.

Lewis-Burke Seeking Legislative Research Assistant

Lewis-Burke Associates, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that represents many federal funded research organizations, is accepting applications for a legislative research assistant. The position involves monitoring science and higher education policy developments as well as attending congressional hearings and briefings, among other duties. Individuals must have a science or policy-related college degree, and previous policy or legislative affairs experience is preferred.

Know of an upcoming science policy opportunity? Email us at fyi@aip.org.

Around the web

News and views currently in circulation. Links do not imply endorsement.

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