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Space Science Advisory Committee (SScAC) Minutes 20-22 Mar 2001

Status Report From: NASA Advisory Council
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2001

SPACE SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE (SScAC) MEETING

NASA Headquarters March 20-22, 2001

Letter to Associate Administrator Dr. Edward Weiler from Dr. Steven Squyres, Chair of SScAC

Dear Ed:

The Space Science Advisory Committee (SScAC) met at NASA Headquarters on March 20-22, 2001. Our findings and recommendations from this meeting are summarized below:

Solar Probe

We heard a presentation on the scientific content of the Solar Probe mission from the Solar Probe Project Scientist, Bruce Tsurutani. We remain very excited about the scientific goals of this mission. The interlinked problems of coronal heating and solar wind acceleration remain as two of the key unsolved problems in solar and heliospheric physics.  Solar Probe would make in situ measurements of the plasma environment from a vantage point a mere two million kilometers above the surface of the Sun, well within the region where the solar wind is being accelerated.  The close passages of Solar Probe over the Sun's poles would provide us with detailed views of the polar regions.  The results from this mission will have important consequences for our understanding of the Sun's magnetic dynamo and its 11-year activity cycle.

We are pleased to note that this science can be accomplished within the cost guidelines that were established for the Solar Probe mission several years ago.  This mission has long occupied a key position in roadmaps for the scientific goals of the Sun-Earth Connection Theme, and it now occupies a similar position within the Living With a Star Program. It has our strongest support.

Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST)

We were briefed by John Mather on the status of the Next Generation Space Telescope project, and we also heard a report from our Origins Subcommittee on this project. We were informed that the NGST project has just gone through a major restructuring in order to stay within budget guidelines. A thorough replanning process led to several major changes to the NGST program. The primary ones are (a) a somewhat smaller telescope (with a 6 to 7 meter aperture), (b) a warmer operating temperature (of about 50K), (c) fewer pixels in the near IR instrument, and (d) no NEXUS mission.

It is our judgment that these changes address the technical and cost challenges that were facing NGST while preserving the core science of the project. We strongly commend the NGST project for this rescoping effort. We also commend them for their interactions with the science community as the rescoping occurred, and we encourage continued interaction as further choices are made in the years to come. We concur with our Origins Subcommittee that even with the changes NGST remains an immensely powerful scientific facility. We also concur with the OS on two issues dealing with the importance of the Mid-IR waveband and the complex international relationships involved in the NGST instrument development plan. We refer you to the most recent OS letter to Anne Kinney for a fuller discussion of these topics.

Reorganization of the Code S Advisory Structure

The reorganization of Code S that you described to us raises the issue of how SScAC should provide scientific advice to the new Director of Astronomy and Physics.  After considerable thought and discussion, we recommend that the current structure of separate OS and SEUS committees be maintained, both reporting to the new Director.  We advocate this structure because we feel at this time that one reasonably-sized committee cannot cover the full range of current Origins and SEU science, even with Astrobiology being moved to a different Division.  We believe that the two committees should henceforth coordinate the times and locations of their meetings so that routine combined plenary meetings are possible. This arrangement should be considered provisional, and should be reevaluated by SScAC in approximately one year's time.

Sounding Rockets and Balloons

We heard a report on the status of the Sounding Rocket and Balloon programs.  Both programs appear to be struggling to provide enough flight opportunities per year to meet the demand of peer-reviewed and selected payloads and thereby maintain a healthy program.  We recognize the essential role that these two sub-orbital programs play in training graduate students, developing new instrumentation in support of the Code S flight programs, and in carrying out unique, low-cost, high-quality scientific investigations.  We note that the SEC Theme is the largest user of sounding rockets, while the SEU Theme provides most of the balloon payloads.  Given the on-going reorganization of Code S it is therefore appropriate that these two programs be managed separately within the Sun-Earth Connection and Astronomy and Physics Divisions, respectively, so that available resources can be used to optimize the scientific productivity of these programs.

Attached ISS Payloads as MIDEX Projects

We had a discussion of attached payloads on the International Space Station. The Code S Strategic Plan, and independently the NAS Decadal Survey, have identified high priority scientific investigations that are well-matched to, and most cost-effective as, ISS attached payloads.  There may be cases where such investigations can fit within the MIDEX cost cap, but almost certainly not within the MIDEX time duration cap.  We urge Code S to revise the MIDEX AO to permit attached ISS payloads to compete for MIDEX selection, up to the full MIDEX cost cap (not merely as a Mission of Opportunity), effective with the next AO release.

Mars Exploration

We received a report from Scott Hubbard and Jim Garvin on the state of the Mars Exploration Program. The program appears to be in good shape. We note that the President's budget blueprint expressed support for a "robust" Mars Program. This position, if adopted by Congress, indicates the Mars Program may be able to proceed at a more rapid pace than we heard about at our last meeting.

Most of our discussion focused on the "Mars Scout" program. We recommend careful definition of the scope of this program, with particular effort made to "cast the net widely" in the search for innovative, PI-led mission concepts. We have the following specific recommendations:

The Scout program should specifically permit all missions to Mars space that fit within the cost caps and schedule constraints of the Program.  In addition to orbital and landed missions to Mars, missions should be permitted that focus primarily on the martian moons Phobos and Deimos, the upper atmosphere, and "network science". Any of these would complement the missions that are part of the main Mars Program.

The Scout program should explicitly allow for a broad range in the size and number of spacecraft proposed.  Maintaining this flexibility will help maximize the creativity that proposers can bring to bear. The program should also enable the possibility that more than one PI might propose a component of a given Scout opportunity.

The Scout program should seek investigators from as wide a community as possible, possibly by including Guest Investigator opportunities.

We note the concern expressed by the SSES over the tight development schedule for the 2007 Scout mission, and we concur with the SSES recommendation to maximize development time for the selected mission.

Finally, we note that a "robust" Mars program implies the need for additional R&A funds.  We also note that there are significant funds provided within the program for development of future missions. It would be wise for NASA to use a small percentage of these funds (1-2%) to fund a Mars R&A program competed using peer-review through the release of a NRA.

Computer Security 

During the course of our discussions, we learned that NASA has notified contractors dealing with certain categories of space science data that an extensive set of security measures must be implemented in order to satisfy OMB Circular A-130.  These include the requirement to obtain fingerprints for personnel having access to such data and a requirement to notify NASA when any transfer of data takes place, including data in the public domain.  While we clearly recognize the need to provide a high level of protection for publicly funded data and computer systems, these measures would be burdensome and difficult for many contractors, particularly at universities, to implement.  In addition, they could be very costly to NASA.

When this subject arose, we invited Lee Holcomb, NASA's Chief Information Officer, to meet with us. We were very pleased to have him join us, and even more pleased to receive the following statement from him:

"The IT Security Clause was suspended to universities for 90 Days and the suspension expires on June 23, 2001. Suspension was NASA-wide for uniformity and equity.  The IT Security Clause was suspended because of inadequate guidance with regard to applicability of the clause to university contracts, i.e., when the clause applies and when it does not.  Applicability criteria need to be clarified and spelled out. In addition, the use of the clause with respect to the extentof personnel screening and IT security training required needs to be clarified. During the suspension period NASA plans to develop adequate guidance and if necessary, amend the language in the IT Security Clause. Specifically NASA plans to work with the Centers and universities in developing adequate guidance and if necessary, amend the wording of the clause.  A web-cast to all universities will be conducted in late June to communicate the clarifications and changes."

This action is directly responsive to our concern, and we commend the Agency for it. We look forward to hearing more about the resolution of this issue at our next meeting.

In addition to the specific problem discussed above, we are concerned about the general issue of the adverse effects of some Procurement Implementation Clauses (PICs) on the scientific community.  We recommend that someone in Code S be specifically assigned the responsibility to review draft PICs and notify the community when PICs of potential concern are opened for comment in the Federal Register.

Education and Public Outreach Task Force

We heard a presentation from Jeff Rosendhal urging that a new SScAC Task Force for Education and Public Outreach be formed. The purpose of this task force would be to provide a thorough review of Code S's Education and Public Outreach program. Unfortunately, Jeff was unable to be present for our whole meeting, and we felt that we could best reach a consensus on this topic if he were with us. Accordingly, we tabled it until our next meeting. However,

That summarizes the results of our meeting. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like any clarification or further detail on any of the points that we've raised above.

Best wishes,

Steve Squyres
Chair, SScAC

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