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American Astronomical Society Issues a Statement on the Role of Science in the Vision for Space Exploration

Press Release From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Monday, July 11, 2005

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In a statement released today, the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional scientific association for astronomers and astrophysicists, has urged NASA to make a vigorous program of scientific research the core of the Vision for Space Exploration.

On releasing the statement, AAS President Dr. Robert P. Kirshner said, "Science, including astronomy, isn't peripheral to the Vision. We want NASA to succeed in exploring the unknown: there's a lot that's unknown about the Solar System and the Universe. We hope NASA will work with the scientific community to blaze paths of exploration that lead to new understanding of what the Universe is and how it works."

The Chair of the Society’s Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, Dr. David Black, stated that "The long-term future of NASA, and therefore activities that NASA supports, is tied to the Vision for Space Exploration or some variant thereof. The role of science in the Vision is clear. Science provides the foundation for the three ingredients that have been identified as essential for the success of the Vision, namely sustainability, credibility, and affordability. I believe that the current leadership of NASA realizes this and will maintain the level of world-class science for which NASA is known as the Vision is implemented."

Deputy Executive Officer Kevin Marvel said, "A statement like this takes a long time to craft, in this case almost six months. But as approved by our Council, this statement represents the balanced view of all of our members. It was certainly worth the wait and I am sure people involved with NASA policy will find it informative and useful."

The statement follows and the supporting contextual reasoning for the statement can be found online at http://www.aas.org/policy/VisionStatement.pdf

*AMERICAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY STATEMENT ON THE VISION FOR SPACE EXPLORATION*

The American Astronomical Society urges that a vigorous, focused program of scientific research form the core of the implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration. The President’s initiative for the civilian space program places emphasis on exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond by humans and robots. Science is exploration, whether it involves directly sampling the surface of Mars, or gathering in the faint and ancient light of distant galaxies. Exploration without science is tourism.

The adventure of exploration will capture the hearts of Americans: but the scientific discoveries that come from that exploration will capture their minds. Scientific discoveries from NASA’s new space program will provide its most meaningful legacy. We are learning where we are, where we came from, and we have discovered surprising new features of the way the world works. Based on NASA’s leadership in space science, we see the Earth as one planet among many we can now study, we see the origin of chemical and biological matter as woven into the history of cosmic change, and we have learned the surprising fact that, on the largest scales, our Universe is not organized by the material we can see, but is made mostly of dark matter and governed by the properties of a mysterious dark energy we have only recently discovered. We have much to explore. The Universe holds a great deal of “beyond.”

Science is essential to implement the Vision for Space Exploration. New technologies to implement the Vision for Space Exploration will depend on scientific advances, and, in turn, will afford new opportunities for scientific work. These notions are laid out in the June 2004 report of the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Exploration Policy and National Research Council’s assessment: Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. As we learn how to explore, we will create opportunities for better scientific research, for more stimulating science education, and we will contribute toward our nation’s ability to compete in a world based on technology.

We are all explorers whenever we encounter something new. By motivating Exploration for scientific purposes, the Vision for Space Exploration will benefit science and society. The great successes of space science in the past decades arise from a strong partnership between NASA and the scientific community. The astronomical community, through its decadal surveys and other consultations has set priorities, and worked with NASA to make these dreams into reality. The astronomical community embraces the opportunity to continue to work with NASA to implement the Vision for Space Exploration on a sound scientific basis with broad input from the scientific community.

Contacts:

Dr. Robert P. Kirshner, President, American Astronomical Society, (207) 354-0231, rkirshner@cfa.harvard.edu

Dr. David Black, Chair, American Astronomical Society Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, (281) 486-2159, black@pres.usra.edu

Dr. Kevin B. Marvel, Deputy Executive Officer, (202) 328-2010 x114 or (703) 589-7503, marvel@aas.org

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