WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Astronomical Society
(AAS), the largest professional organization for research astronomers in
the United States has received answers from NASA Administrator Mike Griffin
to a series of important questions sent to him by email last week.
As a follow-on to a question/answer session at the January 2006 meeting
of the Society, the six questions were crafted by the AAS Committee for
Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP), approved by the Executive Committee of
the Society and submitted by email to Dr. Griffin by AAS President J. Craig
Wheeler from the University of Texas and CAPP Chair, Jack Burns from the
University of Colorado.
President Wheeler said, "The Columbia disaster put the state of NASA,
its science programs, and the human space flight program under a bright
focus. As a result, NASA has been tasked to do too much with too few
resources. Astronomers have been traumatized as plans on which they have
built their careers and planned the careers of their students have been
constricted or cancelled. Astronomers do not do these things because they
will lead to immense riches. They do them because their hearts and souls
are captured by the wonder at the Universe they are privileged to explore.
That is why they leap to the defense of projects, long in the planning, and
consuming of their scientific passions, that are threatened with cut-backs
and cancellation. This dialog with Administrator Griffin is one means by
which NASA and the astronomy community can work together to accomplish the
most exciting, productive science with the most efficient use of taxpayers
Dr. Jack Burns, chair of the AAS Committee for Astronomy and Public
Policy said, "We in the AAS appreciate the difficult challenges that Dr.
Griffin faces as NASA Administrator at this time -- returning the Shuttle
to successful flight operations, finishing the International Space Station,
planning the infrastructure for a return to the Moon and later to Mars,
and, very importantly, maintaining a vigorous program of scientific
exploration of the cosmos. Administrator Griffin has clearly expressed his
on-going commitment to solicit the community's advice through the NASA
Advisory Committee, the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of
Science, and Decadal Survey process. We welcome this additional direct
dialog via his candid answers to these AAS questions in an effort to
achieve both the astronomy community's goals and NASA's mission to advance
and communicate scientific knowledge."
Kevin Marvel said, "Having an open communication channel with
Administrator Griffin is important now more than ever given the pressures
NASA faces. I think it is great he took the time to attend our meeting in
January and even better that he finds the time to respond to our questions.
I hope this dialog can continue."
The questions and Administrator Griffin's responses are included in
their entirety below.
QUESTIONS FOR ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN FROM THE AAS
1. How do you integrate strategic advice from the NRC, CAA, and AAAC
and tactical advice from the NAC science subcommittees into NASA planning?
What kind of input from the science community would be most useful to you
and your senior staff, particularly those in SMD who manage the science
I must first note that "strategic" advice is not absent from the NAC.
To classify their input as "tactical" is to misinterpret their role as
NASA's primary advisor. Being in essence an "internal" advisor to NASA, the
NAC is most useful in helping NASA to consider and to shape strategic
priorities for future years, while also rendering tactical advice in the
handling of current programs, yet all in a manner which respects
Presidential policy and Congressional authorization and appropriations
legislation. This is advice which we at NASA can consider and, if it seems
sound, implement without conflict. Recommendations from other committees do
not necessarily share this property.
The NRC/NAS/SSB (Space Studies Board) is a primary strategic advisor to
Congress on the nation's space science priorities and, as such, we at NASA
take the recommendations of that committee very seriously, and should. I
have been very explicit in saying that it is my intention that science
priorities at NASA should follow the decadal plans of the various SSB
subcommittees wherever possible. These decadal plans are the primary
touchstone for NASA, and represent some of the most useful strategic advice
we can get from the NRC. When programs overrun or budget appropriations are
reduced, then NASA management must make cuts somewhere. While practical
issues of programmatic implementation will always be present, science
community priorities should inform these cuts. The stated priorities of the
NRC are most useful in this regard. Since these priorities are not required
to be consistent with those of the President or Congress, NRC opinions
provide the best view we at NASA have as to the unfettered priorities of
the scientific community with regard to space science programs. We cannot
always implement those priorities, but it is very important to know them.
Also, we at NASA use the Academy on a regular basis for specific
studies which are not of particular interest to Congress. We do this when
we need advice or perspective on a specific topic where our internal "bench
strength," or that within our NAC Science subcommittees, is not sufficient.
I would anticipate that this relationship would continue as it has, more or
The AAAC advises the NSF, DoE, and NASA. My interactions with Garth
Illingworth, who presently chairs this committee, have been quite
favorable; Garth is a true professional who cares about the program. But it
is not at all clear to me how AAAC advice to different agencies with
different charters and having disparate OMB examiners and Congressional
oversight committees can be utilized effectively. A recommendation
acceptable to one agency's internal managers and external overseers might
well -- and often does -- fall afoul of the preferences of another. I do
not know how to resolve this issue. It seems to me that AAAC
recommendations can only be of such a general nature that they offend no
one, if they are to be implementable at all.
2. You indicated recently that you would like to see science increase
at the same rate as the overall agency budget (2.4% in the current FY07
budget request). Could you elaborate on when and how this might be
Science grows 1% through FY11, and then would grow according to NASA's
topline growth (currently at inflation, approximately 2.4% per year)
starting in FY12. This would show in the President's Budget Request for
FY08, which is released in February, 2007.
3. Historically, NASA science missions have cost more and taken longer
than originally envisioned, which complicates forward planning and leads to
recurrent budget problems. Based upon your experience in NASA and as a
leader of industry, can you envision a process for obtaining more accurate
assessments of cost, schedule, and technical risk?
No. I think that the uncertainties in program planning, budgeting, and
control that we experience in state-of-the-art, first-of-a-kind missions
will always be with us. We have decades of experience across hundreds of
programs to suggest that this is so. The best recommendation I have for
coping with such problems is to allocate appropriate reserves on the "front
end" of any program, and then leave that reserve in place! Per my
direction, all new NASA programs are being budgeted at the 70% confidence
level, absent special considerations. I have made a specific point of
desiring realistic, rather than optimistic, cost estimates for new
programs, and have established a strong Program Analysis & Evaluation
Office, reporting to me, with independent cost estimation expertise. All of
these things are departures from past practice, and should help alleviate
the collateral damage which occurs to a portfolio of programs when one of
them overruns badly. It must, however, be understood that one result of
these collective changes is that fewer programs will receive funding
approval. I believe that NASA, the taxpayers, and the science community
will be better served by ensuring that priority science missions benefit
from healthy funding, than by spreading the wealth among a larger number of
missions, none of which receives adequate funding.
4. Both the Decadal survey and a recent NRC Assessment from the Space
Studies Board have emphasized the importance of balance of projects of
different scale in an optimized science program. What are your views on the
importance of balance and how it might be achieved?
I believe this balance is crucial; I completely support the NRC/SSB
position on this point. Nothing could have replaced the Great
Observatories; on the other hand, none of them produced the landmark
results on the distribution of energy in the early universe which were
revealed to us by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, a rather modest
mission. We need to determine which goals we are trying to reach and what
results we are seeking, and then design the systems necessary to attain
them, without initial biases as to whether we need, or don't need, missions
of a certain "class."
5. There are indications that NASA is facing a workforce crisis that
may threaten its ability to carry out its mission. Given that many AAS
members are faculty at colleges and universities or otherwise involved in
education, what do you think that the AAS can do to help NASA address this
We do not have a looming problem or a workforce crisis. 25% of the NASA
workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five years, though of
course not all will do so. I regard this as an opportunity to bring in the
next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon
and Mars. There are larger issues, which I think have been well publicized,
concerning the uncomfortably small proportion of U.S. students who are
choosing to enroll in the mathematical, scientific, or engineering
disciplines. This is a concern which I believe to be rooted in the nation's
culture and in the priorities which have been set for government spending
by many Administrations and Congresses in recent decades. If the AAS can
play a constructive role in a discussion of these priorities as they relate
to the future of science and technology in our country, I welcome it.
6. As space science missions become more ambitious and as other nations
have developed more capabilities in space, international partnerships have
become increasingly common, and with them they have brought new challenges.
What do you think can be done to increase the effectiveness of such
partnerships in the future?
Actually, I think they are quite effective as they stand today. It has
actually become less common for the U.S. to execute a space science mission
entirely by itself, rather than to employ some form of international
partnership. The efficiency of international cooperation on such missions
could be improved through greater flexibility in the implementation of U.S.
ITAR and export control regulations.
SOURCE American Astronomical Society