American Astronomical Society Releases Statement on the NSF Astronomy Senior Review Report

Nov 28, 2006, 00:00 ET from American Astronomical Society

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Astronomical Society,
 the largest professional organization for research astronomers in the
 United States has issued a statement on the recently released National
 Science Foundation Division of Astronomical Sciences Senior Review report.
 The report, entitled "From the Ground Up: Balancing the NSF Astronomy
 Program" was completed on October 22, 2006.
     AAS President, J. Craig Wheeler said, "The Astronomy Division of the
 National Science Foundation faces a future in which the operating expenses
 for greatly-needed new facilities -- Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)
 in the sub-millimeter, Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT) and Large
 Survey Telescope (LST) in the optical, and the Advanced Technology Survey
 Telescope (ATST) to study the Sun in unprecedented depth -- could each
 consume annual funds comparable to the whole current individual grants
 program. The Senior Review was a necessary and conscientious exercise to
 see where programs might be pruned so that new growth can occur. It is also
 incumbent on Congress to keep the NSF, including the Astronomy Division, on
 a competitive path of growth that balances current and future needs."
     AAS CAPP chair Jack Burns continued, "The Senior Review completed one
 of the key recommendations of the last Decadal Survey -- namely, a review
 of current NSF-funded national observatories. The issue is one of balance
 in funding between current telescopes such as Gemini, telescopes under
 construction such as ALMA, and planned new telescopes such as LST. The
 Blandford Committee faced a daunting task in evaluating the relative merits
 of these diverse observatories. The process of soliciting input via town
 halls was excellent and provided essential input for the Senior Review. I
 hope that the astronomical community will rally in support of this process
 of community evaluation and ranking as it has traditionally with the
 Decadal Surveys. We must demonstrate a capability for making tough choices
 so that we might better justify new funding for the next generation of
 astronomical telescopes."
                    American Astronomical Society Statement
                                     on the
        National Science Foundation's Division of Astronomical Sciences
                              Senior Review Report
     Astronomy is in the midst of a vibrant period of discovery from
 exoplanets to dark energy. We are poised for dramatic advances in our
 understanding of the Universe and our place within it. Realizing this
 potential requires continual life-cycle investment in increasingly complex
 and expensive NSF- supported ground-based facilities while maintaining
 basic grant support. Fiscal constraints limit our ability to initiate new
 projects and to operate all existing facilities at their current levels of
 support. Acknowledging this reality, the most recent Decadal Survey
 recommended that NSF competitively review all its older facilities every
 five years.
     Eighteen months ago, the NSF appointed a distinguished Senior Review
 Committee, led by Roger Blandford, to carry out the first such review. The
 committee has done an exemplary job of discharging its responsibility by
 gathering input broadly, including from both policy makers and facilities
 management, holding numerous town meetings, and clearly formulating its
 standards of evaluation.
     The American Astronomical Society commends the NSF for implementing the
 Decadal Survey recommendation and for creating an open and transparent
 process that permitted full community participation. On behalf of the
 astronomy community, we thank Roger Blandford and his committee for
 carrying out this important task with great care and thoughtfulness.
     To enable the NSF to undertake exciting new projects on the frontiers
 of astronomy, the Senior Review made recommendations that, if implemented,
 will cause hardship for some. The AAS urges our community to join with the
 Astronomy Division of the NSF to present a common front as we plan for a
 strong future in the context of both the Senior Review and opportunities
 such as the American Competitiveness Initiative.

SOURCE American Astronomical Society