Dear Colleague Letter from NASA Associate Administrator Mary Cleave, Science Mission Directorate

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Monday, March 13, 2006


National Aeronautics and Space Administration,

Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546-0001,

March 13, 2006,

Reply to Attention of SMD, Management and Policy Division,

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to bring you up to date on the activities of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Much has transpired over the past year and much has been set in motion for the year ahead. While we are rebuilding NASA's advisory committee structure under the new NASA Advisory Council (NAC), it seems appropriate to use this medium as one means to keep the communication flowing between SMD and the broader science community.

These are exciting but also challenging times in NASA's Earth and space science programs. The current pace of discovery is astounding, and research pathways are being charted to address some of the great remaining questions concerning the origin, evolution and destiny of the universe, the history of the solar system, the possibility of life beyond Earth, the space environment to be encountered by robotic and human explorers, and the causes and consequences of global change on Earth itself. Fresh impetus has been provided by the Vision for Space Exploration and other Presidential initiatives in the arenas of science in which NASA is engaged. But we all plan and conduct our scientific explorations in a constrained Federal budget environment made more so by recent events on the national and international stage largely beyond the realm of science. Within NASA, the return to flight of the Space Shuttle and completion of the International Space Station require more resources than were anticipated a year ago. Within the SMD, the technical challenges of complex space missions has led to cost growth in our science missions that further limits the pace of mission selection and implementation that will fuel the pace of discovery in the future.

The charge that the NASA Administrator has given to the leadership of the SMD, and so to our science community, is to deliver a robust and executable program in this resource-constrained environment. In the sections that follow, I will describe the actions SMD is taking to fulfill that charge and describe how the science community will provide critical input to NASA as together we conduct our program.

Organization: I am refining the organization created in the merger of the Earth and Space sciences to better serve our scientific constituencies and give Division Directors more control over the resources they rely on. Referring to Enclosure 1, SMD will now have four Science Divisions (Earth Science, Heliophysics, Planetary Science, and Astrophysics) and a Management & Policy Division (chart 1). Program Executives, who provide programmatic and technical oversight of missions, will once again be members of the Science Divisions. Cross-cutting and infrastructure programs will be managed for SMD by one Division, generally the one with the largest stake in the activity (chart 2). The key processes employed in implementing each major element in the SMD portfolio - science, engineering, flight programs, and technology - will be overseen by designated senior executives in the SMD front office.

Science Advice and Prioritization: SMD is reestablishing the pattern of interaction with the community on scientific advice that has proven successful in the past. We will seek community advice on science priorities from the National Academies through such means as decadal surveys. We will seek community advice on implementation planning from advisory committees operating under the umbrella of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). We will engage both forums in the development of strategic plans which link prioritization to implementation.

After a one-year hiatus, we are rebuilding our advisory committee apparatus (chart 3). The NAC will comprise five committees, including a five-member Science Committee. In the current term of the NAC, the Science Committee members are: Dr. Charles F. Kennel (Chair), Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Dr. Wesley T. Huntress, Carnegie Institution of Washington; Dr. Eugene H. Levy, Rice University; Dr. Mark S. Robinson, Northwestern University; and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, chair of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board, is an ex officio member. The Science Committee will meet whenever the NAC meets, in keeping with the NAC structural model.

The Science Committee will have five Subcommittees, one paralleling each of SMD's four Science Divisions, plus a Planetary Protection Subcommittee. Each of these has its own chair and members, and will meet in public session as required by NASA policy. The Science Subcommittees will normally meet 45 to 60 days prior to NAC/Science Committee meetings in order for their products to be ready for consideration as needed by the NAC. Science Subcommittee rosters, information, and products will be hosted on the SMD website at

Strategic Planning: SMD remains committed to a triennial strategic planning cycle with substantial community engagement. We will use this calendar year to get back on that track. A new NASA Strategic Plan is now available. (see footnote 1) As this is the first NASA Strategic Plan since the announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration, it has a strong focus on the future of human space exploration. However it covers the entire NASA program, including science. Science retains a prominent place in the NASA mission statement, "To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research," and the science goal (Goal #3) in the NASA Strategic Plan is well aligned with our four areas of research focus.

We are now working to develop a SMD Science Plan to implement the goals in the NASA Strategic Plan. The foundation for this strategy document will be the set of roadmaps originating in the science community. (see footnote 2) The Astrophysics and Heliophysics roadmaps are nearly complete. The Planetary Science and Mars Exploration roadmaps will be complete this spring. Earth Science awaits the first NRC decadal survey (now in progress), and will use interim materials as described below.

The Congress passed, and the President signed in December, a NASA Authorization Act for 2005. Title 1, Section 101(d) of that Act requires that "The Administrator shall develop a plan to guide the science programs of NASA through 2016" including identification of important scientific questions and priority ranking of missions. This plan is due to the Congress not later than 1 year from the date of enactment, which is the end of this calendar year. It is our intent to fulfill the Congress's requirement and the SMD's need for a strategy document with a single Science Plan. We intend to engage the community through the NAC Science Committee, the NAC Science Subcommittees, and the NRC Space Studies Board in the process of crafting this Science Plan.

Role in Human Exploration of Space: The human exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit is a core element of NASA's strategic plan. The fundamental goal of the Vision for Space Exploration (see footnote 3) is "To advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program." It is the responsibility of the (SMD), working with the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD), to make sure that NASA conducts the science that enables human space exploration, as well as the science that is enabled by human space exploration, in the context of the Agency's and the Nation's overall science priorities.

Within our research programs, SMD supports science that enables human exploration. For instance, within our Heliophysics research program we are supporting the science required to understand and mitigate the radiation environments that human space explorers will be working in beyond the Earth's magnetosphere, and within our Planetary Science research program we are supporting the study of the Moon, Mars, and other solar system bodies that are the destinations for the human exploration program.

Working with ESMD to realize specific science required to enable human exploration of the Moon, SMD is playing a traditional program science role in ESMD's lunar robotic program. ESMD is funding the lunar robotic missions, and SMD is providing scientific advice on instrument selection, development, and related matters. Anticipating science opportunities that will be enabled by the lunar human exploration missions, SMD will be evaluating the potential for lunar science. SMD's policy is that potential science opportunities enabled by human exploration activities must compete in the same prioritization process as the rest of the SMD science program, since the funds come from the same pool.

A zone of intersection between the science and exploration spheres are the choices that will be made on exploration architectures and systems --- some choices that are cost neutral for exploration may nevertheless be more beneficial for science. NASA, NAC, and the Space Studies Board will be undertaking a set of workshops and studies this year to identify science priorities and science opportunities, within the context of the decadal surveys, that will inform such choices. For example we are discussing with the Board the development of a science strategy for the Moon that is consistent with the Board's existing science advice. More information about these activities will be forthcoming.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Budget: The President's FY07 budget request was submitted to the Congress on February 6. For the Science Mission Directorate, the growth planned in the out years in the President's FY06 budget request has been moderated to a 1.5% growth in FY07 and 1% per year thereafter. This results in a total FY06 -10 decrease of $3.1 billion from the run-out of the FY06 President's budget request to the run-out of the President's current FY07 budget request. The $3.1B decrease in SMD's budget over the next 4 years was used to solve a shortfall in the funding required to safely return the Space Shuttle to operation and to complete the assembly of the International Space Station.

In responding to this changed budget, SMD's overall strategy is to develop an executable program based on science priorities provided by the community via National Academies studies. The following is a summary of status and budget impacts by SMD science area.

One impact that spans all science disciplines within SMD is a 15% reduction in research and analysis (R&A) annual funding. The reduction in R&A funding is directly related to the slowing rate of growth of SMD programs. Because there will be fewer missions within SMD, a larger body of advanced research and development to prepare for future missions is not required. It is important, as these activities are reduced, that NASA preserve the essential capabilities within the research community that are needed for the missions that NASA will be executing in the future. Also NASA will work to ensure that the students who represent the Nation's future technical workforce are not disproportionately affected by these reductions.

Earth Science: With the Earth Observing System initial series of satellites now deployed, the focus is on exploiting their data in research, modeling, and applications, and on defining, formulating and implementing successor and complementary missions. Recent proposals selected to carry out this work include those submitted in response to the Modeling and Analysis Program (MAP) research announcement, which will bring a new level of focus and integration to NASA's climate modeling efforts. All current and future Earth science research opportunities will be announced through the annual Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) solicitations. NASA continues its large commitment to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, and has begun the process of sponsoring the development of the assigned synthesis and assessment reports.

NASA, with the co-sponsorship of NOAA and USGS, has tasked the National Academies to develop the first decadal survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space. The decadal survey is anticipated in November of this year. In the meantime, NASA is working internally and with its newly formed advisory structure to develop a forward plan for Earth Science for inclusion in the Science Plan required by the Congress in December. Following release of the NRC decadal survey for Earth science, NASA will adjust its Earth science plans accordingly.

In the realm of flight missions, the largest challenge remains the delivery of instruments for the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP). We are further concerned about the impact of the current NPOESS difficulties on the continuity of climate data records. In anticipation of development of a new baseline for NPOESS by the triagency Integrated Program Office, NASA has moved the NPP launch date to April 2008; further change is probable as NPOESS rebaseling is still in process. The Ocean Surface Topography Mission Confirmation Review was conducted in February 2006. The Glory mission has also been confirmed to proceed to implementation. Launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission is delayed to the end of 2012. NASA and the USGS received revised guidance from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Landsat, and NASA is proceeding with planning for the acquisition of a Landsat Data Continuity mission as a free-flyer. In parallel, OSTP will work with NASA, USGS, and other agencies on a strategy for operational land observation. The ESSP Orbiting Carbon Observatory and Aquarius missions have been confirmed to proceed to implementation, and thus Hydros was not. The release of the next ESSP Announcement of Opportunity will be no earlier than FY2008.

Heliophysics: The Division manages three flight programs that are funded in the FY07 Budget. These are the Solar Terrestrial Probe (STP), Living with a Star (LWS) and Explorer programs. Three LWS projects will be supported in FY07; the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be near the end of its fabrication phase at the end of this fiscal year, and getting ready for spacecraft integration and test activities. Instrument testing is in progress at the present time with encouraging early results from the HST instrument. The SDO launch date has been changed from 04/08 to 08/08. The Radiation Belt Storm Probe (RBSP) project will be in a formulation phase in preparation for a mission confirmation review, and the Space Environment Test bed (SET) project will be completing payload hardware.

The magnetosphere Multi-Scale Mission (MMS) is the fourth STP mission and its scientific goals were identified as the highest priority in the 2003 National Research Council decadal study, and will also be in formulation phase this year.

A Heliophysics Division Explorer program mission, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) project is expected to be in a hardware construction phase. The plans for launch and operation of AIM and THEMIS, two other Explorer missions managed in the Heliophysics Division, remain unchanged. The release of the next Explorer Announcement of Opportunity is expected to be no earlier than FY2008.

A technology development project, The New Millennium Mission multiple spacecraft flight demonstration, ST-5, is expected to launch in March 2006. The management of the Sounding Rocket Program has been moved to the Sub-Orbital Program that is managed for the SMD by the Earth Science Division. It is anticipated that the Sounding Rocket program will support a number of Heliophysics flights as per the current plan.

Planetary Science: A key feature within this FY07 budget is the implementation of the rebalancing of the science portfolio that the Administrator announced last year. The Mars exploration program was slated to grow very substantially in the President's FY04 and FY05 budget requests. This came largely at the expense of the Earth science, Heliophysics and Beyond Einstein programs, and the President's FY07 budget request reflects some restoration toward the earlier balance. The Mars program in the President's FY07 budget request is still an aggressive one, with a launch every optimal orbital opportunity approximately every two years. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter orbit insertion at Mars is coming up. This will be followed by the Phoenix launch in 2007, Mars Science Laboratory in 2009 and Mars Scout in 2011 (the AO for the 2011 Mars Scout is planned for April 2006, with proposals due in July 2006). Subsequent missions are being outlined in a community roadmapping activity now undergoing review by the National Academies. Deferred are Mars missions associated with preparation for human missions, in keeping with the planned time frame for human exploration, and a Mars sample return mission.

The next Discovery Announcement of Opportunity was released in January, with proposals due in April 2006 and selection expected by fall 2006. The first New Frontiers mission, New Horizons Pluto, was successfully launched in January 2006. The second New Frontiers mission, Juno, is included in the new budget. The next New Frontiers AO is planned for no earlier than FY08. Astrobiology research funding is reduced 50% in the President's FY07 budget for several reasons. The lower flight rate for Mars missions, plus the recognition that human exploration missions to Mars are further in the future than previously assumed, have reduced some of the urgency for rapid progress in astrobiology research. It should also be noted that astrobiology experienced a rapid growth in funding several years ago, and this reduction brings it more into balance with the rest of the research program.

Astrophysics: The President's FY07 budget request funds a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 2008 pending successful return to flight of the Space Shuttle. Kepler has been successfully confirmed for implementation. However, cost and technical challenges in other programs have had adverse effects on other astrophysics missions in development. SIM launch readiness is now no earlier than 2015-16. TPF is deferred beyond the horizon of this budget, and the Keck observatory outriggers are cancelled. In addition, NASA can no longer continue to fund the NuStar project. The completion of SOFIA remains a budgetary and schedule challenge. While progress has been made, including installation of the German Space Agency telescope and development of science instruments, the schedule has continued to slip with the first test flight not expected to take place before fall 2006, and the observatory not being ready for scientific observations before mid 2008. This delay causes an erosion of science and impacts the scientific lifetime of the observatory as well as cost impacts. NASA and DLR will undertake a review of SOFIA early this year to determine its future course.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) continues to progress through its mission formulation phase. As part of the mission replanning effort, NASA HQ created the Science Assessment Team (SAT) (see footnote 4) to provide an independent analysis of the science goals of the JWST mission. The SAT was charged with re-evaluating and prioritizing the scientific capabilities of the mission. In its report, the SAT reaffirmed the scientific case for JWST and made recommendations or endorsements that can simultaneously reduce risk and emphasize JWST's unique capabilities in the context of other future ground and space-based assets. The new replanned program and the results of an ongoing independent review will be the subject of a review by the NASA Administrator in Spring 2006. NASA officially authorized the start of formulation for the Beyond Einstein program in October 2005, with LISA entering Phase A. The two observatory-class missions in the Beyond Einstein program, LISA and Con-X, have made progress developing technologies and performing system engineering and architecture trade studies. NASA is also conducting mission concept studies for JDEM, as is the Department of Energy. The science case for Beyond Einstein remains compelling. However, available resources are more limited in the President's FY07 budget request. A re-plan of the Beyond Einstein program (LISA, Con-X, JDEM) will be conducted in the 2008-09 time frame to determine which mission will be the first to proceed.

Conclusion. In conclusion, NASA faces significant challenges ahead in implementing a robust and exciting science program. In a time of constrained resources and a large number of compelling future science missions, setting priorities is more important than ever. NASA is committed to undertaking the necessary prioritization studies in a joint activity with the science community via the National Academies and NASA's advisory committee apparatus. Access to the judgment of active members of the research community is absolutely vital in this endeavor, and we are dependent on the continued support and assistance of the broader science and industrial communities to successfully implement the highest priority programs in a cost-effective manner. We appreciate your support and will work to keep you informed.



Mary L Cleave,
Associate Administrator for the
Science Mission Directorate,


Footnote 1:

Footnote 2, These are distinct from the "Strategic Roadmaps" produced last year by the now defunct Advanced Planning and Integration Office, though the best ideas from that effort informs the current efforts.

Footnote 3,

Footnote 4, The JWST SAT reports are available at The SAT was co-chaired by Dr. Matt Mountain and Dr. H. "Peter" Stockman and included Dr. Roberto Abraham, Dr. Alan Dressler, Dr. Kathryn Flanagan, Dr. Robert Gehrz, Dr. Malcolm Longair, Dr. Christopher McKee and Dr. Sara Seager.

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