Decadal Surveys: Community Consensus in Science Priorities
Decadal surveys are the most prominent and influential activity of the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.1 The Committee on Surveys of Surveys: Lessons Learned from the Decadal Survey Process was charged with studying the decadal survey process, emphasizing the four recent surveys in astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space physics (heliophysics), planetary science, and Earth science and applications from space (Box 1.1). NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) was the common sponsor of all four of these surveys. The decadal surveys have been a model in the world of science for how community consensus can be achieved—on science goals and on a program of activities to achieve them—for four disciplines that have much in common, but also many differences in substance, style, and culture.
Major stakeholders in the space- and Earth-science communities impacted by and/or responsible for the formulation and implementation of the four most recent surveys participated in the November 2012 workshop “Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science.” The key issues discussed are summarized in Box 1.2, and additional details can be found in the 2013 report Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: Summary of a Workshop.2
This study was sponsored solely by NASA, and so the committee has focused on how NASA uses decadal surveys in support of its SMD science programs. However, other agencies are also involved in decadal surveys. Notably, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has a major involvement with astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys because many ground-based facilities for astronomical research are funded by NSF. The ground-based telescopes and research programs of the solar and space physics program, to some degree included in the astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys, are also part of the NSF portfolio. Although this report is primarily about the way NASA uses the decadal survey process, it covers many issues that are relevant to NSF and other agencies and discusses these issues as appropriate.
1 Activities of the National Research Council are now referred to as activities of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
2 National Research Council, Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: Summary of a Workshop, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
Four Recent Decadal Surveys
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Astronomy and astrophysics is concerned with the study of all extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena, including the universe as a whole (cosmology). Research in astronomy and astrophysics is supported by NASA Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD’s) Astrophysics Division, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Astronomical Science Division, the Smithsonian Institution, the divisions of other federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, and through a large contingent of private and university-funded research. The Astrophysics Division excludes studies of solar system bodies and the Sun, these being the responsibility of SMD’s Planetary Science and Heliophysics divisions, respectively. The 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics,1 is referred to herein as Astro2010.
Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics)
The discipline of heliophysics—also called solar and space physics, the terms being used interchangeably in this report—is the science of the Sun and its variability, Earth’s upper atmosphere (magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere), the interactions of the solar wind with Earth and other planets, and the changing conditions in space (some of which is called space weather) out to the interstellar medium. Research in heliophysics is supported by SMD’s Heliophysics Division, NSF’s Division on Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a variety of other federal agencies. The 2013 solar and space physics decadal survey, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society,2 is referred to herein as Helio2013.
Planetary science, as its name implies, is concerned with remote sensing and in situ studies of the planetary bodies orbiting the Sun and supporting laboratory and theoretical studies. The discipline has a small but important overlap with heliophysics (in the general areas of planetary aeronomy and magnetospheres) and astronomy and astrophysics (in the theory and modelling of exoplanets). The principal support for planetary science comes from SMD’s Planetary Science Division, but NSF provides vitally important ancillary support via access to, for example, its ground-based observing facilities. The 2011 planetary science decadal survey, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022,3 is referred to herein as Planetary2011.
Earth Science and Applications from Space
In the context used in this report, Earth science is the study of Earth’s atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere as a single connected system. Improved understanding of the Earth system has important societal benefits in terms of improved forecasts of weather, climate, and natural hazards. Studies of Earth are supported by SMD’s Earth Science Division and a host of other agencies, most notably, NOAA, NSF, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The 2007 Earth science and applications from space decadal survey, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,4 is referred herein as Earth2007.
1 National Research Council (NRC), New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.
2 NRC, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
3 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
4 NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
The committee was asked to do the following (see Preface):
• Consider the organization, process, prioritization, and programmatic aspects of these decadal surveys in terms of lessons learned and to “present a set of options—‘best practices’—for possible evolutionary changes and improvements to this process, including the statement of task, advanced preparation, organization, and execution.”
• “Identify best practices for the statement of task” that ensure a survey report is (1) broadly representative of its community in its principle responsibility of prioritizing science; (2) attentive to the needs of sponsoring agencies; and (3) mindful of technical advances, budget issues, and opportunities for international cooperation.
• “Recognize the primacy of science goals over implementation missions” and evaluate the “pros and cons” of performing a first-phase science-prioritization report and then a separate implementation prioritization report “after a period of community interactions with NASA.”
• Review problems of recent surveys with respect to fiscal uncertainties and to specifically consider the effect of the “blackout-period” when NASA, NSF, and other federal agencies cannot share the details of the forthcoming federal budget and the Academies cannot share the progress on the decadal survey’s recommendations.
The committee was also asked to compare and contrast the all-important science prioritization process used by recent decadal surveys and to review the workings of the independent cost and evaluation (CATE) process that has been essential in ensuring that a decadal survey’s recommended program is executable. The implementation of a decadal survey program includes community participation in a crucial midterm review of the survey and in advice through SSB standing committees and advisory structures within the agencies. This report reviews and describes the important roles of international collaboration and interagency cooperation to the success of a decadal survey program and identifies best practices that can enhance both.
DECADAL SURVEYS—THE “SHORT COURSE”
What Is a Decadal Survey?
The decadal survey process, created by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, reviews a science discipline’s progress in the previous decade and engages its community to prioritize science at the frontier. The goal is to reach consensus on a visionary 10-year program to advance the highest-priority science.
The report that emerges from the decadal process translates and transforms the scientific aspirations of the community into a program: new facilities, such as space missions; ground-based observatories; technology and infrastructure development; enhanced educational opportunities; and numerous enabling activities. Some of the federal agencies that fund decadal surveys are also those tasked with implementing the decadal program,3 so in these cases, the recommended program is crafted with an awareness of their research and programmatic interests.
A successful survey program also serves societal goals, resonates with the interests and curiosity of the public, motivates Congress, aligns with the initiatives of the executive branch, and fits within the fiscal constraints of the federal budget. Decadal survey reports have been widely cited and praised, adopted as definitive roadmaps by some federal offices and agencies and Congress, and read as guidebooks by the universities and research centers whose science programs nourish and serve society.
What Disciplines Have Adopted the Decadal Process?
The first decadal survey was a modest undertaking: a single committee of distinguished astronomers focused on the need for more ground-based optical and radio telescopes.4 With the lifting of astronomy into space, the scope
3 The NSF does not construct, manage, or operate facilities, as NASA and some other federal agencies do. NSF solicits proposals for facilities and science programs and runs a competitive peer-review process, but it contracts to other organizations for their construction, management, and operation.
4 National Academy of Sciences, Ground-Based Astronomy: A Ten-Year Program, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, Washington, D.C., 1964.
Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: A Workshop
On November 12-13, 2012, the Academies held a workshop in Irvine, California, to discuss the decadal survey process in general and, in particular, the challenges that arose during the implementation of the four most recent space science decadal surveys. A detailed account of the presentations and discussions can be found in Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: Summary of a Workshop.1 The key issues identified by the workshop participants and documented in the summary provided the framework around which the current report was constructed. Key issues that surfaced during the workshop (and the respective chapters of this report where they are discussed) include the following:
• Organization of decadal surveys (Chapter 1).
• Importance of the statement of task (Chapter 1).
• Development of the statement of task (Chapter 1).
• Should decadal survey just focus on science goals and not their implementation (Chapter 2).
• Processes used by surveys to prioritize science goals (Chapter 2).
• How implementation initiatives are developed and evaluated (Chapter 2).
• Factors determining how surveys formulate their science and implementation priorities (Chapter 2).
• Budget guidance provided to surveys and its subsequent use (Chapter 3).
• Utility of panel reports as stand-alone volumes (Chapter 3).
• Cost, schedule, capabilities, and risk to mission success (Chapter 3).
• Risk management on large missions (Chapter 3).
• Integrating interagency and international cooperation into surveys (Chapter 4).
• Development of decision rules and their use in supporting decision making under changing circumstances (Chapter 4).
• The Space Studies Board standing committees and other groups as long-term stewards of the decadal surveys (Chapter 4).
• Mid-decadal reviews (Chapter 4).
1 National Research Council, Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: Summary of a Workshop, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
and complexity of the astronomy surveys grew. The Astro2010 survey was the most recent in a line of six surveys stretching back to the 1960s, commonly known by the names of the committee chairs—Whitford, Greenstein, Field, Bahcall, McKee and Taylor, and Blandford (Box 1.3). The astronomy series acquired such a stellar reputation that the planetary science community carried out its first survey in 2003 (Belton), with a second in 2011 (Squyres—Box 1.4). Earth science (Moore and Anthes—Box 1.5) completed its first survey in 2007, and solar and space physics in 2003 (Lanzerotti), with a second in 2013 (Baker—Box 1.6). These are the four divisions of SMD at NASA, a principal sponsor of the decadal surveys. NSF, with its substantial portfolio of astronomy programs and facilities in optical/infrared and radio astronomy, as well as solar observatories, has also been a major sponsor since the beginning. As scientific programs have expanded, more government agencies have participated in decadal surveys, including NOAA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sponsorship of Earth2007 and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) growing involvement with astronomy and astrophysics.
The committee is aware of several attempts at decadal survey analogs that lie outside the realm of the classical, observational space sciences (e.g., in oceanography;5 nuclear physics;6 space biomedical and microgravity sciences;7 solid-state physics;8 plasma physics;9 atomic, molecular, and optical science;10 and aeronautics11).
5 National Research Council (NRC), Sea Change: 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2015.
6 NRC, Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012.
7 NRC, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
8 NRC, Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
9 NRC, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
10 NRC, Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons, The National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
11 NRC, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006.
Reflections on Astro2010
Roger D. Blandford, Chair, Committee for a Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics
It is now nearly 5 years since we completed New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics.1 This allows time for reflection on the process and the outcome. My two strongest impressions at the time have stayed with me. The first is that the field has flourished and continues to thrive on all fronts in a manner that I never contemplated when I entered it. Enduring discoveries about exoplanets, the evolution of the universe, and black holes rest upon a secure foundation of interconnected understanding, and yet we are constantly being blind-sided by fresh discovery. The survey provided us all with a great opportunity to learn about and start to engage in new research. The second impression was how dedicated, objective, and open my colleagues were to new approaches—survey, panel, and study group members, the Academies’ staff, other survey chairs, and agency folks; they all saw the value of the process and worked to execute it fairly and expeditiously. The blizzard of more than 500 white papers and proposals that demonstrated the engagement of the community was even more striking for the quality of its content. The missions adapted patiently and well to the cost and technical evaluation (CATE) process, which was being invented as it was being implemented. Of course, there were lessons learned, as discussed in this report, and the budget became very much bleaker for well-publicized reasons immediately after the survey was delivered. However, the agencies have been able to start more of what was recommended than at one time looked possible, and, if we take the long view, Astro2020, which is already being contemplated, will start from a very secure and exciting place. I am confident that the progress and prospects from Astro2020 will be every bit as exciting as those from Astro2010.
1 National Research Council, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.
Reflections on Planetary2011
Steven Squyres, Chair, Committee on Planetary Science Decadal Survey: 2013-2022
Following the lead of the astronomy and astrophysics community, the planetary science community produced its first decadal survey in 2003.1 This report, led by Mike Belton, laid a solid foundation for a decade of planetary science. When the time came for the next planetary science decadal survey, we built on that foundation. While the previous decadal survey had led to the creation of NASA’s powerful New Frontiers program of principal-investigator (PI)-led missions, some particularly important missions called for in that report, including missions to initiate sample return from Mars and in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa, still languished.
The second planetary decadal survey, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022,2 drew upon widespread input from the science community, with 199 white papers submitted by more than 1,600 authors. (I was tempted to write one myself, just to bring the total to an even 200.) A couple of dozen missions were studied, and many of them were subjected to detailed cost and technical evaluations. In the end, the committee recommended a modest increase in funding for planetary research and analysis grants, a robust continuation of the Discovery program of small PI-led missions, and five candidate New Frontiers missions. Like the previous survey, the committee also endorsed Mars sample return and Europa missions, but in descoped forms that would be more affordable. And, importantly, a set of simple decision rules were provided that could be applied to adjust priorities if funding for planetary exploration fell below hoped-for projections.
Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, NASA’s funding for planetary exploration was indeed threatened with deep cuts right around the time of the survey release. The community rose to this challenge and used the decadal survey as a rallying point to fight for restored funding. With strong support for the recommended program on Capitol Hill, some of the cut funding has indeed been restored.
Many of the planetary science community’s decadal recommendations are being followed. As I write this, many of my colleagues are deeply engaged in writing proposals in response to the latest Discovery announcement of opportunity. A new Mars rover mission in 2020 will collect and cache a set of samples, beginning the long-hoped-for process of sample return. And a new mission called Europa Clipper is under serious consideration for a new start. The future is bright.
The message in all of this is that decadal surveys matter. They provide an opportunity for a broad community of scientists to speak with one clear and forceful voice. And the evidence says that decision makers in Washington are listening to that voice.
1 National Research Council (NRC), New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.
2 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
Reflections on Earth2007
Berrien Moore III, Co-Chair, Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future
In thinking back to the writing of the Earth science and applications from space decadal survey,1 I am reminded of the opening of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .
In hindsight, the scales were certainly tilted toward the worst of times. Between fiscal year (FY) 2000 and FY 2007, the NASA Earth Science budget had fallen, in real terms, by more than 30 percent. It was against this backdrop that Richard Anthes, my co-chair, and I, ably assisted by a wide-ranging team reflecting the broad scope of the Earth sciences, met in August 2004 to begin work on the first Earth sciences decadal survey. Any expectation of leisurely academic pace quickly vanished: just as the newly formed survey committee began its work, it was asked by both the agency sponsors and Congress for “interim” report. In April 2005, the committee reported that the national system of environmental satellites was “at risk of collapse.”2 This unusually strong statement set the stage for a survey that was going to be “noticed” by the political process.
We did not know that things were only going to get worse. When the decadal report Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond appeared in 2007, it declared: “Since the publication of the interim report, budgetary constraints and programmatic difficulties at NASA and NOAA have greatly exacerbated this risk [of collapse]. . . . At a time of unprecedented need, the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray.”3 The release of the decadal survey report was widely covered by the national press; it was even the subject of a lead editorial in the Washington Post.
In the end, this first Earth science decadal survey has had a significant impact. The NASA budget for Earth science began to improve almost immediately through congressional actions. Unfortunately, the economic recession reduced the scope of the increases, but the budget for Earth science has continued to improve. Finally, in January 2015 the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, the first “decadal mission,” was successfully launched.
While not the best of times, it is clearly no longer the worst of times.
1 National Research Council (NRC), Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
2 NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 2.
3 NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, p. 19.
Reflections on Helio2013
Daniel N. Baker, Chair, Committee on a Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics)
The first major discovery of the Space Age was made by James A. Van Allen and coworkers in 1958. They found that Earth is enshrouded in toroids, or belts, of high-energy particles trapped in Earth’s strong magnetic field. Since those early discoveries nearly six decades ago, we have made amazing further discoveries about our solar system and our space environment. We now understand vastly more about the atmosphere, the ionosphere, and the magnetosphere surrounding us. We have spectacular new views of the Sun, and we understand ever more deeply how the changing solar drivers affect in profound ways our home in space. Deep insight into the behavior of the Sun-Earth system has allowed us to extend our knowledge to remote planets and distant cosmic systems. The 2013-2022 decadal survey in solar and space physics1 reminded me how far the discipline of “heliophysics” has progressed, but also how many challenging opportunities remain to be exploited. Solar and space physics has progressed to a point where it truly has two faces: There is the fascinating basic science that forms a core science related intimately to sister disciplines of Earth science, planetary exploration, and astrophysics. But space physics has also become a basic science with immense practical implications. Our technological society is vulnerable in countless ways to the effects of “space weather,” and the 2013-2022 survey laid out a prudent and thoughtful plan to address these key societal issues. It made me immensely proud that the space physics community—through the efforts of hundreds of its members—presented in clear, concise terms what is possible over the next years in solar, interplanetary, and terrestrial exploration. Recognizing the budgetary realities, the community devised a consensus that offered exciting programs with affordable price tags with particular attention to low-cost enhancements in research and analysis and related programs—the “DRIVE” initiative—and the Explorer program. And in all of this, the community recognized its responsibilities to help protect and defend our technological society. I believe that the phenomenal missions now operating and the programs of observation, theory, and modeling presented in the 2013-2022 decadal survey will assure that the discipline of solar and space physics will continue its proud decades-long record of achievement, discovery, and service.
1 National Research Council, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
Although these surveys are not explored here, it is the committee’s hope that the lessons learned and best practices contained in this report will prove informative to any future such endeavors.
Who Are the Stakeholders?
The stakeholders of decadal surveys are, strictly speaking, the federal agencies, most prominently NASA and NSF, but also DOE, NOAA, and USGS. These agencies fund the Academies to carry out decadal surveys, committing to a strong linkage between the decadal survey programs and science activities at the agencies in the following years. Working with the Academies, agencies set the agenda by formulating a statement of task that defines the scope of work and boundary conditions. Specific questions and issues of particular importance to the agencies are often included.
There are many others who have an important stake in the outcome of decadal surveys, starting with the community that the survey represents. The prospects for future accomplishments in the discipline depend to a substantial extent on the soundness of the recommendations and their successful implementation.
In this broader sense, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and, potentially, other parts of the executive branch are “invested.” They look to decadal surveys for a documented community consensus against which agency plans can be evaluated. Members of Congress and their staff often emphasize the value of decadal survey reports for promoting a consensus science policy as opposed to one driven by special interests.
More and more, the public has become a stakeholder of the decadal survey process because Earth science and heliophysics, two of the four divisions of NASA’s space science program, are conducting research that is critical to the health and safety of all life on Earth. Society’s dependence on vast systems of satellites that monitor and enable prediction of Earth’s weather are not just essential information for commerce and for daily planning, they have now become key to protecting both technical infrastructure and human lives. Space weather reflects variable conditions on the Sun, throughout space, and in Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere. These physical processes can cause disruption of satellite operations, communications, navigation, and electric power-distribution grids, leading to a variety of socioeconomic losses and impacts on global security. Measurements over decades that record climate change and track the distribution of precious resources, especially water, are essential not only for human survival but for all living things. Indeed, there is little doubt as to who has the biggest “stake” in space science research.
Who Is the Audience?
There is a wide audience for a decadal survey report among those who make up the nation’s scientific and technical enterprise. Scientific research centers pay close attention to the ranking and emphasis placed by decadal surveys on research themes, which influences their training of scientists and engineers, technology development, service to society, and community outreach. International science communities and their space agencies use decadal surveys as input to their own planning processes, to identify areas of mutual interest for new collaborations.
The audience for survey reports extends to many non-professionals as well—for example, the many astronomy clubs across the country. Surveys inspire students seeking careers in science, and the public engages in a decadal survey’s science program by following discoveries from the newest space telescope, pictures of the martian surface or a giant explosion on the Sun, and from the service of societal needs—improved weather predictions, geomagnetic storm warnings, or climate modeling, for example.
Survey priorities are widely publicized by print and digital media, including non-technical articles by the popular press. A general-audience summary is published with each survey to reach both formal and informal educators in K-12 and higher education. Eventually, the decadal surveys themselves become the best historical records of the contribution of U.S. scientific communities to the quest to understand the natural world.
How Is a Survey Put Together?
The Space Studies Board, with input from its relevant standing committees, and other boards (e.g., the Board on Physics and Astronomy in the case of astronomy and astrophysics), as appropriate, work with the Academies’
staff to initiate decadal surveys, beginning with the selection of a survey chair and the survey committee—about 20 accomplished scientists and engineers representing the full range of the discipline and a balance of demographic categories. Committee members are traditionally more experienced members of the community who are leaders in their field but are also active across the discipline. The survey committee produces the survey report that is responsive to the statement of task composed by the Academies and the agencies and representative of consensus vision of science goals and a program to accomplish them.
To ensure wide participation by the community, the Academies’ staff and the survey committee populate panels organized by science themes (e.g., outer or inner planets, stellar or galaxy evolution, climate variability and change, solar wind-magnetosphere interactions), observational techniques (e.g., X-ray or radio observations), or facilities (ground-based versus space-based telescopes). The variety of these panels, which give a sense of what the field is all about, can be seen in the panel names in Box 1.7. Survey committees have also formed study groups (variously called “infrastructure study groups” or “national capability working groups”) to explore other issues related to the health of the discipline, covering such subjects as infrastructure, research grants, workforce diversity, applications, and graduate education. The organization of a survey varies somewhat, reflecting the culture of the discipline and the preferences of the survey organizers.
How Are Surveys Conducted?
It takes about 2 years for the committee, panels, and study groups to do their work. Because of the large volume of information that is gathered, studied, and evaluated, the complexity of the process and the need for maintaining the high standards of studies conducted by the Academies, the workload is considerable.
A decadal survey receives broad community input through public meetings, “white papers,” and direct presentations. Each thematic panel—sometimes in collaboration with the survey committee—alloys science and observational capabilities to construct a ranked program of missions and activities—for example, a mission to Mars, a ground-based radio telescope, a multi-satellite space observatory. Large space missions and ground-based facilities are subjected to independent cost and risk evaluation, as originally suggested in a 2007 Academies’ workshop report12 and subsequently mandated by Congress.13 The survey’s recommended program also identifies and prioritizes key activities—for example, technology development; programs for small-scale, competed science missions and facilities; and other projects.
After panels and study groups have finished their work, the survey committee studies the panels’ suggested programs, ranks them across the discipline, and produces the definitive report that presents the survey’s science goals and a recommended program to accomplish them. The survey report, like the reports of the supporting panels, undergoes independent review to validate that its conclusions are properly supported and well documented.
How Are Decadal Surveys Followed-Up?
The survey committee disbands after the publication of the survey report, formally ending the survey’s work. The “stewardship” that is necessary to implement the decadal program cannot be as broadly representative of the community, but there are entry points for ongoing involvement. The Space Studies Board, through its standing committees, periodically reviews the progress of each survey’s program, offering guidance to the agencies on decadal program implementation. Per congressional direction,14 the Academies conduct a midterm review that focuses on agency progress and compares how well the activities that have been undertaken align with the science goals of the survey.
The subcommittees of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council also follow progress on the NASA component of the survey. NSF gathers input only in the form of proposals to execute parts of the decadal
12 NRC, Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp. 21-30.
13 Congress of the United States, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008, Public Law 110-422, Section 1104b, October 14, 2008.
14 National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005, Public Law 109-155, Section 301(a), December 30, 2005.
Thematic Panels of Four Recent Decadal Surveys
Earth Science and Applications from Space1
Earth Science Applications and Societal Benefits
Land-Use Change, Ecosystem Dynamics, and Biodiversity
Weather Science and Applications
Climate Variability and Change
Water Resources and the Global Hydrological Cycle
Human Health and Security
Solid-Earth Hazards, Natural Resources, and Dynamics
Astronomy and Astrophysics2
Cosmology and Fundamental Physics
The Galactic Neighborhood
Galaxies across Cosmic Time
Stars and Stellar Evolution
Planetary Systems and Star Formation
Electromagnetic Observations from Space
Optical and Infrared Astronomy from the Ground
Particle Physics and Gravitation
Radio, Millimeter, and Submillimeter Astronomy from the Ground
Satellites [of the Giant Planets]
Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics)4
Solar Wind-Magnetosphere Interactions
Solar and Heliospheric Physics
1 National Research Council (NRC), Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
2 NRC, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.
3 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
2 NRC, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
program. DOE has extensive internal mechanisms for evaluating progress on their component of the decadal programs (for example, the NSF’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)—the top-priority ground-based facility in Astro2010). The Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), for example, advises NASA, NSF, and other agencies on multi-agency projects such as LSST. But other agencies have little or no formal advisory structure that can help assess and guide implementation of the decadal program.
What Are the Challenges for Future Surveys?
While no decadal survey has encountered a major problem that has significantly compromised its work, the experiences of the surveys conducted in the past decade suggest common challenges that might be considered in anticipation of future surveys. Some of these challenges are abstracted here, all of which are discussed in some detail in the report, in the form of questions that future surveys will need to answer.
The Biggest Missions and Facilities
The difficulty, complexity, and cost of “high-profile” (“flagship” or “strategic”) missions and facilities have grown,15 creating substantial challenges for decadal surveys. High-profile missions and facilities are discussed extensively in Chapter 3. Related questions include the following: How can a balance of large and small programs be achieved and maintained? How can robust evaluations of the costs of such missions be made, and cost growth be contained, to protect other missions and activities? Addressing such questions will be crucial to the deliberations of future surveys. Even after the survey is completed, high-profile missions and facilities present challenges as to how these multi-decade programs can be managed successfully. How might we protect important human resources, for example, the education and research support of the next generation of scientists, especially those with skills in technology development?
Better Understanding of Cost, Technical Difficulty, and Risk
The decadal surveys encompass programs with a broad range of scope and risk. Questions related to the inherent challenges include the following: How can surveys compare the costs, risks, and benefits of programs with such diversity? How can a survey’s tendency to over-specify requirements of proposed missions and facilities—in part motivated by the need for better cost evaluations—be reconciled with the need for flexibility in an implementation strategy that has to also accommodate government, agency, and societal goals?
Better Definition of the Budget Available to a Decadal Survey
Each decadal survey needs a realistic budget envelope within which to “fit” a program of maximum science at minimum cost. In times of budget instability—common in recent years—can agencies project budgets that provide realistic bounds for survey planning? How can decadal programs be made more resilient to changes in budget profile? Can the effect of the “blackout period” for communicating with the agencies imposed by the federal budget process be minimized?
Interactions with, and between, Federal Agencies
When missions and facilities require the cooperation of different agencies of the federal government—each with its own culture and practices—what can be done to help accomplish decadal priorities?
15 The terms flagship mission, strategic mission, and high-profile mission are typically used interchangeably to mean large, expensive, technically ambitious, performance-driven activities that are initiated for strategic reasons because they are critical to the advancement of a specific discipline. The committee prefers to call such activities high-profile missions.
The most ambitious missions and facilities reach a scale that is beyond the capability of a single nation to accomplish: international collaboration continues to be essential. Can the decadal process help reconcile the very different planning processes of international communities and agencies? How can decadal surveys help international partners in the planning, execution, and operation of missions and facilities of mutual interest and benefit? How can international experience and expertise be exploited to benefit decadal surveys?
THE MOVING PARTS AND ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE DECADAL SURVEY PROCESS
The Academies have conducted 11 decadal surveys—6 in astronomy and astrophysics, 2 each in planetary science and solar and space physics, and 1 in Earth science and applications from space—over the past 51 years (Table 1.1). All share the purpose of reaching community consensus and proposing a program of activities to advance the field in the decade ahead, and possibly beyond. Each decadal survey has employed a different organizational structure and study methodology. To varying degrees, these differences can be attributed to the differing scientific, programmatic, or budgetary circumstances under which they were performed, and to personal or community idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, the most recent decadal surveys have broad similarities, as discussed here.
Initiating a Survey
A sponsoring agency or group of agencies may signal their interest in engaging the Academies’ services to undertake a decadal survey in a number of ways. Once they do, a well-understood and rehearsed set of events is triggered. The first step is for the Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB) and other relevant boards (e.g., the Board on Physics and Astronomy in the case of astronomy and astrophysics) to charge their relevant disciplinary standing committee to begin laying the groundwork for the new decadal survey. The standing committee responds by hosting an organizational meeting where representatives of sponsoring agencies, members of the relevant scientific communities, and, when appropriate, participants in past surveys discuss the broad outlines of the task ahead. Agenda items for an organizational meeting typically include the following: the scientific and programmatic background against which the survey will be conducted; the timescale for the completion of the task; the scientific and programmatic scope—i.e., what is to be considered and what is to be assumed; an outline of how the committee undertaking the survey might be organized; and the expertise required to populate the committee. Ideally, the output of the organizing meeting will feed into the drafting of a statement of task by the sponsor(s) and its subsequent iteration with the Academies (see the “Statement of Task” section below for more details). Once all parties are satisfied with the statement of task, the Academies’ staff can begin the task of formally requesting internal approval for initiating the survey and the drafting of a proposal to the sponsors for the requisite funding.
Although they differ in detail, each survey has been organized around a leadership group—the survey committee (sometimes called the “steering committee” or “executive committee”). The survey committee typically has consisted of 15-20 senior members of the relevant discipline community whose collective expertise spans the entire range of scientific, programmatic, technical, and policy issues relevant to the survey’s activities. The survey committee is responsible for the overall conduct of the decadal study, aggregating and adjudicating the recommendations of various thematic panels, and drafting a report of its top-level conclusions and recommendations.
TABLE 1.1 Fifty-One Years of Decadal Surveys
|Publication Year||Title||Survey Committee Chair(s)||Committee Members||Panels||Working Groups||What Was Published|
|1964||Ground-based Astronomy a Ten-Year Program||A.E. Whitford||8||0||0||Survey report|
|1973||Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970s||Jesse L. Greenstein||23||9||3||Survey report Panel reports|
|1982||Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1980s||George B. Field||21||6||7||Survey report Panel reports Working papers|
|1991||A Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics||John N. Bahcall||15||15||0||Survey report Executive summary Working papers|
|2001||Astronomy and Astrophysics for the New Millennium||Christopher F. McKee and Joseph H. Taylor, Jr.||15||9||4||Survey report Panel reports Popular version|
|2003||New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy||Michael J.S. Belton||15||6||0||Survey report (including chapters by panels) Popular version|
|2003||The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics||Louis J. Lanzerotti||15||5||0||Survey report Panel reports Popular version|
|2007||Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond||Richard A. Anthes and Berrien Moore III||19||7||0||Interim report Survey report (including chapters by panels) Popular version|
|2010||New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics||Roger D. Blandford||23||9||6||Survey report Panel reports Popular version|
|2011||Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022||Steven W. Squyres||17||5||0||Survey report (including chapters by panels) Popular version|
|2013||Solar and Space Physics: A Science for Technological Society||Daniel N. Baker||19||3||5||Survey report (including chapters by panels) Popular version|
Panels are organized by the Academies and the survey committee to cover the various thematic topics of the discipline. Panels typically have 10-15 members with specific expertise in some key subset of the decadal survey’s range of responsibility. The decadal survey can involve a large cross section of community members through panels. To maintain lines of communication between the panels and the survey committee, panel chairs or vice chairs are
either members of or advisors to the survey committee. Panels are the decadal survey’s principal interface with the broad scientific and technical communities they represent, while the survey committee’s principal interface is with its sponsoring agencies and organizations.
The number of panels and their thematic orientation has probably been the greatest variant among the four recent decadal surveys. The number of panels varied from three for Helio2013 to nine for Astro2010. The number of panels relates to the variety and complexity of the scientific and technical issues being addressed, the personal preferences of the survey’s chair (or co-chairs), and the resources available to support the study.
Thematic Organization of Panels
The thematic organization of the panels (see Box 1.7) usually reflects the way each community conducts its scientific investigations. For example, because planetary science is intimately concerned with spacecraft observations on or near bodies in the solar system, the panels are essentially organized around these objects (e.g., inner planets or outer planets). For reasons of continuity, Planetary2011 explicitly chose, with one exception,16 the same thematic organization used in the 2003 survey.
Solar and space physics concerns the physical processes occurring at the interfaces between various particle and/or electromagnetic field environments, so panels have been organized around these different domains. Helio2013 also featured semi-formal, cross-panel groups that addressed topics such as theory and modeling and instrument development.
Astro2010 adopted a complex substructure consisting of five science frontiers panels (SFPs) and four program prioritization panels (PPPs). The SFPs were charged with defining key science priorities in realms of the cosmos—extrasolar planets systems, stars, galaxies, and cosmology. Once their tasks were completed, the SFPs disbanded, and their priorities were passed on to the PPPs. These “formulation” panels were organized around different observing wavelengths, techniques, and regimes and were tasked with finding the best implementation strategies to achieve the science priorities outlined by the SFPs. The activities of these two sets of panels were supplemented by six informal (i.e., not appointed by the Academies) study groups, which addressed different aspects of the astronomical community.
The thematic orientation for Earth2007 differed significantly from the other three. Seven panels were organized around combinations of both scientific and societal benefit themes—for example, human health and security and solid Earth hazards, natural resources, and dynamics.
Quasi-Formal Supporting Groups
In addition to the Academies-appointed survey committees and their panels, many decadal surveys have drawn input from quasi-formal supporting groups. Such groups follow a spectrum of organizational structures. At one end of the spectrum, the Infrastructure Study Groups of Astro2010, which consisted of interested members of the community unaffiliated with the survey committee or its panels, provided input on topics not directly addressed by a specific panel and/or topics that “fell in the cracks” between two or more panels—issues like community demographics, public policy issues, and international and private partnerships. At the other end of the spectrum are cross-panel groups where members of two or more survey panels join to form short-lived, ad hoc groups that cover a topic not otherwise explicitly addressed by the survey (e.g., the group within Helio2013 that addressed NASA-posed questions not included in the statement of task concerning the scientific traceability of the goals of the Sun-grazing Solar Probe Plus mission17). Helio2013 also deployed “national capabilities working groups,” a hybrid between the two panel types just described. These were populated by a mix of survey committee and panel members, supplemented by volunteer consultants, whose task it was to address issues in common with multiple panels or topics unrepresented in the panel structure.
16 Unlike the 2003 planetary science survey, Planetary2011 did not include a panel on astrobiology.
17 For details concerning the ad hoc Solar Probe Plus group see, for example, NRC, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, p. xiii.
Irrespective of how such internal quasi-formal groups are organized, their output is typically not published. Rather, the material generated by such groups is shared with the survey committee and/or its panels to inform the Academies-reviewed decadal report documents.
The decadal survey process takes place over approximately 18 to 24 months and includes information gathering, meetings, and teleconferences of the survey committee and its supporting panels; consultation with contractors; and report preparation, review, finalization, and dissemination. The major steps in a typical survey are shown schematically in Figure 1.1.
Committee and Panel Meetings
The decadal survey process typically begins with a meeting of the survey committee. Thereafter, meetings of the panels and survey committee alternate. Survey committees typically hold five or six full meetings plus numerous conference calls. Panels typically meet three times each (plus additional conference calls, as necessary) and complete their work prior to the third or fourth meeting of the survey committee.
FIGURE 1.1 Decadal survey flow chart over approximately 18-to-24 months from committee charge to public release of the report. A detailed discussion of the CATE process can be found in Chapter 2 and Appendix B. This figure is repeated for convenience in the discussion of Chapter 2.
Community Input and Engagement
All four of the recent decadal surveys invited their communities to submit white papers on important scientific, technical, or programmatic issues. The solicitation typically occurs soon after the first meeting of the survey committee. Submission deadlines have been timed so that the white papers are available for consideration by the panels soon after their first meetings.
Engagement of a substantial fraction of a particular scientific community is a hallmark of a decadal survey. Webcasts have broadened the scope of community engagement beyond that traditionally achieved by town halls and other forums at major scientific conferences (e.g., American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union, and Lunar and Planetary Science Conference) and by holding survey committee and panel meetings at major research centers. For example, the Planetary2011 survey committee and its panels made a concerted effort to webcast and archive the open sessions of every meeting.18 Community input and engagement are discussed further in Chapters 2 and 3 of this report.
Formulation of Science Priorities
Most if not all survey committees delegate the drafting of key science questions to their supporting panels, sometimes with the help of the survey committee. Astro2010 was the first survey to form a set of panels specifically (and only) for identifying an unranked list of science priorities in the form of science questions. However, most decadal surveys use one set of panels to do both the science prioritization and implementation strategies together, with varying participation and oversight of the survey committee. Planetary2011 had a head start in defining its science priorities, thanks to prior work undertaken by the various analysis or assessment groups (AGs) supported by NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD). One of the roles of the semiformal, community-based AGs is to draft white papers and other documents describing their group’s respective goals (see Chapter 4, “Short-Term Guidance”).
Chapter 2 of this report contains a thorough discussion of the process used by decadal surveys for the prioritization of science and implementation strategies.
Mission Definition and Formulation
Mission (or program) definition and formulation is perhaps the most complex activity in a decadal survey, and also the most idiosyncratic. All four recent decadal surveys had a mission definition and formulation phase, but no two employed the same process. The differences were due mainly to (1) whether or not planning activities were available in the discipline at the time the survey began, (2) the resources available to support the survey, and (3) the survey’s statement of task. For example, Astro2010 issued a request for information (RFI) to the scientific community for potential mission concepts. Many of the responses to this RFI were derived from concepts formulated in a pre-decadal round of community-based mission studies funded by NASA’s Astrophysics Division.
Although NASA PSD sponsored several large mission studies (e.g., Europa Jupiter System Mission, the Titan Saturn System Mission, Enceladus flagship, Venus flagship) prior to (and independent of) its respective survey, there have been few such pre-decadal studies of mid-size (New Frontiers class) missions. However, Planetary2011 benefited greatly from the fact that PSD had sufficient resources to commission, at the request of the committee, more than 20 additional mission definition studies at leading design centers. The solar and space physics community had even fewer mission designs under study prior to Helio2013. However, a number of mission concepts had been proposed by the community and studied to various degrees during the drafting of NASA’s triennial Heliophysics
18 This experiment in community engagement can be judged a mixed success because of the challenges that remain in providing adequate audio coverage of the presenters and members of the audience—something that should improve as technology gets better.
roadmaps.19 The design team at Aerospace Corporation had sufficient resources to study only preliminary implementations for a dozen heliophysics mission concepts.
The scope of mission formulation and design activities for Earth2007 was the least of the four surveys. Mission designers at several NASA centers assisted the survey committee in estimating the costs of key components of the mission concepts devised by the panels—for example, instruments, spacecraft buses, launch vehicles, and ground systems.
Chapter 2 of this report contains a more detailed description of the processes and strategies of mission definition and formulation used in the past four decadal surveys.
Cost and Technical Evaluation
A key facet of three of the four most recent decadal surveys has been the inclusion of an independent cost and technical evaluation (CATE) associated with mission concepts for high-priority science. Except for Earth2007, surveys selected the Aerospace Corporation to evaluate mission concepts using its proprietary CATE methodology. Results were reported to each survey committee immediately following the final set of panel meetings, enabling a rescoping of some mission concepts to conform to the desired science program. Revised mission concepts underwent another CATE “round” to validate that the revised concept achieved the intended cost and schedule. Figure 1.1 shows an example of how the CATE process fits into the decadal process. A more extensive discussion of the CATE process can be found in Chapter 2 and Appendix B of this report.
Report Drafting, Review, and Publication
The decadal survey report is the “document of record” of a survey and a plan for achieving the community’s high-priority science goals. The Academies’ report review procedures and subsequent copy editing of reports prior to publication have helped remove stylistic and other differences inherent in any committee-drafted document.
The panel reports of a decadal survey have an invaluable role in tracing how the decadal survey prioritized science and identified strategies to achieve science goals and objectives. However, panel reports have no official standing: the survey report authored by the committee is the only source of consensus recommendations—panel reports typically provide important context and history.
Up to this time, panel reports have been published either with or separate from the survey report. A more extensive discussion of panel reports can be found in Chapter 4.
Popular Version of the Survey Report
A decadal survey is primarily a visionary document. As such, its message needs to be readily understood by those responsible for authorizing, appropriating, and implementing its recommendations. However, the traditional executive summary and other background materials may be intimidating—too detailed, or simply too long—to engage non-technical readers, for example, congressional staffers, agency executives, or the public. As a result, all surveys completed since 2001 have drafted brief (less than about 30 pages) but richly illustrated summaries of the decadal report’s science priorities and recommended program. These reports play an important role in communicating the “state of the science” and the “plan forward” to the general public.
19 For the most recent roadmap, see 2009 Heliophysics Roadmap Team, Heliophysics: The Solar and Space Physics of a New Era—Recommended Roadmap for Science and Technology 2009-2030, NP-2009-08-76-MSFC 8-402847, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., 2009.
THE ROLE OF THE STATEMENT OF TASK
All decadal surveys are defined through a statement of task. As noted in the 2012 workshop report,20 the statement of task “like the decadal surveys themselves, speaks to multiple stakeholders who are involved in the negotiation of its content.” The statement of task is negotiated by the Academies with the sponsoring agencies. Leading members of the scientific community21 and members of SSB standing committees, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, have also been consulted in past cases. Statements of task have generally become much more detailed over the years as the methodology of executing surveys has become more sophisticated (see Box 1.8). The discussions to formulate them are correspondingly protracted, typically requiring as much as a year to finalize.
The statement of task is critically important because it sets the scope of the survey. It specifies which activities are in or out of scope for the prioritization exercise (e.g., which should be considered for inclusion in a recommended program and which are assumed to be already under way). The statement of task identifies any specific questions the sponsoring agencies want examined by the committee (e.g., applications priorities and interfaces between research and operations). It is also used to ensure appointment of a balanced committee. The statement of task also serves to manage expectations and helps those leading the survey to keep the discussions and the content of the report focused on facing hard choices that have to be made. A change in the statement of task after the survey has begun, which has occurred in some recent instances, can be quite disruptive and, ultimately, costly. For example, NASA changed the statement of task for Helio2013 in mid survey to specifically include, rather than exclude, a review of the responsiveness of Solar Probe Plus to the science goals of the Solar Probe mission discussed in Helio2003 and, in so doing, impacted the survey’s budget and schedule.22,23
The Academies’ reports are carefully reviewed, and the charge to reviewers is to ensure that the draft report corresponds well to the statement of task by addressing all the directives and not going beyond them. While it is not the job of the reviewers to question the judgment of the survey, they do ensure that it remains responsive to the statement of task. As aptly summarized by Charles Kennel and captured in the 2012 workshop report,24 “In essence, everybody will get what they asked for, like it or not.” It is vitally important to get the statement of task “right.”
The content of the statement of task should be expected to vary from survey to survey to reflect the differing cultures of the four major space science disciplines, evolving science, and the changing priorities of the agencies. Further, space and Earth science are increasingly global endeavors, and the statement of task should reflect the reality of the discipline’s international context. Indeed, reconciling the customs and expectations of the different agencies and other stakeholders is a major challenge, and this should be expected to take some time and care to finalize.
In general, it is important to find the right level of detail and specificity in the statement of task. The challenge is to craft it to stand the test of time and maintain relevancy throughout the entire decade.25 An over-prescriptive set of questions and tasks makes the committee’s difficult job much harder to accomplish. One example is how the Planetary2011 statement of task included language specifying that “flight and ground investigations to detect and characterize exoplanets are out of scope (these topics are being addressed in the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey in concurrent development).”26 This restriction did not, however, prevent the survey committee from drawing important scientific connections between disciplines by including text on the comparative planetology of solar system bodies and exoplanets.
Another example concerns decision rules; that is, explicit statements of how a survey committee advice will
20 NRC, Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science, 2013, p 78.
21 A survey chair cannot be appointed until the survey is formally initiated by the Academies, thus he/she cannot be consulted about the statement of task, at least in its initial formulation.
22 For the science goals of the Solar Probe mission discussed in Helio2003 see, National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 55-56; and NRC, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: Panel Reports, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 29-30.
23 For Helio2013’s discussion of Solar Probe Plus see, for example, NRC, Solar and Space Physics, 2013, pp. xiii and 132-133.
24 NRC, Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science, 2013, p. 78.
25 Attributed to Steve Squyres at the 2012 workshop in NRC, Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science, 2013, p. 15.
26 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011, p. 319.
Specificity of Statements of Task
In order to appreciate the increase in scope and specificity of the statements of task that launched the most recent decadal surveys, it is necessary to study and compare them. The following eight quotes give a flavor of what is now expected:
Take into account the principal federal- and state-level users of these observations and identify opportunities and challenges to the exploitation of the data generated by Earth observations from space (Earth2007, p. 383).
[T]he committee will consider what ground-based and in-situ capabilities are anticipated over the next 10-20 years and how future space-based observing systems might leverage these capabilities (Earth2007, p. 383).
In contrast to previous surveys of the field, in view of the number of previously recommended but unrealized projects, the prioritization process will include those unrealized projects, and it will not be assumed that they will go forward (Astro2010, p. 266-267).
[I]t will develop its own estimate of the costs of the activity with help from an independent contractor with expertise in this area. It will not uncritically accept estimates provided by activity proponents or the agencies (Astro2010, p. 267).
The Committee shall review relevant programs of other nations and will comment on NSF opportunities for joint ventures and other forms of international cooperation (Planetary2011, p. 320).
This summary should, to the extent possible, be accompanied by decision rules that could guide NASA in adjusting the queue in the event of major unanticipated technical, cost, or other programmatic changes (Planetary2011, p. 320).
[T]he findings and recommendations in the present survey should be harmonized with those developed and reported by the ongoing astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey (Helio2013, p. 328).
In proposing a decadal research strategy, the Committee will make recommendations within the boundaries of expected future budgets and address choices which may be faced, given a range of budget scenarios. To that end, it is anticipated that NASA and NSF will provide an up-to-date understanding of these limitations during the course of the survey (Helio2013, p. 328-329).
NOTE: The National Research Council decadal surveys Astro2010 (New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2010), Earth2007 (Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007), Helio2013 (Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, 2013), and Planetary2011 (Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, 2011) were published by the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
change in the event of specific foreseen circumstances.27 The statement of task can ask for guidance, through decision rules, in executing the program in the face of significance changes—for example, from the projected budget. However, it is not possible to foresee all the changes that will occur, so judicious flexibility in the statement of task is required to optimize the survey’s recommendations at the time that they are delivered. The most important
27 Decision rules are extensively discussed in Chapter 4.
function of a decadal survey is to prioritize the science and to do this from a broad and integrating perspective. A well-written statement of task is a key enabler for this task.
Suggestions for Future Statements of Task
The statement of task for this committee contained the following instruction:
The committee will identify best practices for a well-structured statement of task that will result in a report that reflects the consensus of the community, meets short term needs of sponsoring agencies, and addresses the interests of other important constituencies, all while remaining relevant in the face of technology and science advancements, budget evolution, and international cooperation opportunities over the decade (and the following decade, for the largest projects).
The committee believes that, in fact, the items in its statement of task have become synonymous with what decadal surveys do and are. This means that the instructions given to surveys via their statements of task have consistently led to surveys that succeed in achieving these primary goals. As such, the committee believes that previous statements of task are a good starting point for the design of future surveys.
Best Practice: Those drafting new statements of task do well to review the statements of task for the previous survey in the field as well as the most recent round from other disciplines for historical and comparative value.
This report examines all of these issues related to decadal survey planning and implementation and identifies a few places where the process might benefit from improvement simply by additions, clarifications, or emphasis in future statements of task. However, in most cases, how well a decadal survey accomplishes these well-recognized goals of the process comes down to improvements in the process. Comments at the 2012 workshop, and other input to this committee, make it clear that decadal survey committees have been well aware of and committed to doing the best they can in the matters identified in this committee’s statement of task, and more. This report focuses on how the process can be adjusted, perhaps just tweaked, to do the job even better.
As identified throughout this report, there are a few places where further guidance on the statement of task would be helpful. Statements of task can, for example, be made more explicit with respect to consideration of multiple budgetary scenarios (Chapter 2) and the extent to which existing programs, projects, or prior surveys’ recommendations are reviewed (Chapter 3). Agencies can also use the statement of task to identify any strong agency preferences with respect to how high-profile missions and interagency and/or international participation are considered in the survey (Chapter 3).
Finally, there is an issue where the committee thinks an addition to the statement of task would be very harmful to the decadal process. At the 2012 workshop, NASA division directors suggested that science prioritization independent of implementation strategies is something they believed would be very helpful in the decadal survey’s recommended program. Indeed, this idea appears prominently in this committee’s statement of task. The rest of the committee’s statement of task reads as follows:
The analysis should recognize the primacy of science goals over implementation strategies. The committee should consider, in particular, the pros and cons of a two-phase process that results in a science prioritization report first, and then, followed by a period of interaction with NASA and mission formulation prioritization process.
The committee has closely examined this idea. Carefully explained in this report (in particular, in Chapter 2, “A Two-Phase Decadal Survey Process”) is the committee’s conclusion that a separate prioritization of science divorced from implementation strategies would derail the decadal process in its pursuit of the consensus goals stated above. This committee finds this to be a good example of a modification to the statement of task that could be very harmful. In the spirit of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” this report discusses adjustments in the decadal survey that could mitigate the problem that may have motivated this particular request.
The remainder of this report contains three chapters and five appendixes. Chapter 2 reviews the decadal survey process, including mission definition and formulation, prioritization, and the process of cost and technical evaluation, which has become a standard part of the decadal process. Further material on CATE can be found in Appendix B.
Chapter 3 covers the product of the decadal survey process—its program of science priorities and a strategy for implementation to achieve science goals and objectives. It also contains a thorough discussion of high-profile missions as well as sections on decadal program advice to the agencies and communication of the decadal program.
Chapter 4 focuses on the many stewardship issues, those activities after a decadal survey is completed that are key to a successful execution of the decadal program’s science goals and objectives. The vital role of international collaboration is reviewed with an eye to strengthening and increasing it. Agency cooperation in accomplishing programs that involve more than one federal agency is another issue that deserves attention and is also covered in Chapter 4.