Thursday, March 22, 2007

LPSC part 2 - NASA night

Sorry about dropping off the face of the Earth for a week. I had the flu, but I'm doing much better now, thanks for caring. LPSC is over of course, but I wanted to add some more comments about the week, lest you think it's all about the shoes. Last Monday LPSC hosted what is known in the biz as "NASA night" when the bigwigs from headquarters come down to give us the lay of the land and listen patiently while we berate them for not giving us enough money.

Last year, NASA night almost broke out into a giant brawl after Mary Cleave spoke about how she didn't understand why we were angry after the announcement of major cuts to Research and Analysis (R&A) funding. Good times. I think we must have scared her off, she who is retiring in April, didn't show her face in Houston. Instead we were treated to Jim Green, the new head of planetary sciences, who was honest and sympathetic and actually listened to what we had to say. It was incredible.

Here are my notes from the meeting:

* The National Academies has created a "Planetary Performance Assessment Committee" to evaluate hoe well the Planetary division is addressing strategies, goals, and priorities from academy reports (this is a requirement of the NASA Auth Act of 2005)

* The current round of Discovery and Scout AOs are on track, with 3 full missions and 3 missions of opportunity selected for further study.

* M3 is on track to launch on Chandrayaan-1

* Phoenix and MSL are on track for '07 and '09 launches, respectively

* Dawn's launch has slipped to June '07.

* JUNO will launch Aug '11

* MGS is almost certainly unrecoverable. RIP.

* There will be "concept" funding for outer planet missions

* The Deep Space Network (which is still seriously underfunded and heading for trouble) has been transferred to SOMD - in theory this is because SOMD deals with all of the other communication systems, so this is just consolidating that, but I think it is a really stupid move because the Space Ops folks aren't going to prioritize it the same way that we do.

* The NEO program has been transferred to ESMD, I'm not really sure if that's good, bad, or neutral in the long run, but it draws a clear line between studying asteroids for planetary protection purposes vs. science.

* Some of the 15% cut to R&A funding from last year has been recovered (about 5.8M - though it's not clear where exactly that money came from). It will be focused towards some of the programs that were hardest hit by the funding crunch (e.g. astrobiology, instrument development, and Mars fundamental research).

* It was noted that R&A currently accounts for ~14% of the budget, which is not even close to the 25% that the National Academy decadal survey recommends. Let's hope that comes up in the new "Planetary Performance Assessment Committee" meetings.

* There was some cheers for the new rapid notification policy whereby those who have been chosen to receive grants (or not chosen) will be told within a few weeks after the decision is made, rather than months, sometimes approaching a year, that it used to take. Now only those proposals on the bubble will have to wait. Sometimes all it takes is a little common sense, people.

* There is one exciting new pot of R&A money, for a program called LASER (the acronyms are really ridiculous) - Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research. These funds are for basic lunar science, exploration-related applied science, data analysis from PDS data, and even for digitizing or acquiring old datasets. It will be co-funded with ESMD at a rate of ~2-3M/yr. Not bad.

Those are the highlights. All in all, a productive meeting and a hopeful sign of things to come.

There was a second meeting on Wednesday in which Doug Cooke was supposed to come and talk about Lunar stuff, but he was sick (there was a lot of that going around), so John Connolly stepped in at the last minute and did a fine job of covering the hq-speak slides (very pretty with little substance). It was pretty basic stuff about Constellation and returning to the Moon. There wasn't much new information for me, but I bet that the scientists who don't pay attention to much besides their own science probably learned a lot. Impressively, Wendell Mendell came up after John and, also using Doug's slides, gave a short history of the Constellation program. I think Wendell could talk for 30 minutes using anybody's slides, now that's a talent.


Sarah said...
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Sarah said...

I'm glad you are better!

Thanks for the NASA night notes, I didn't make it to that one. I was, however, there for the previous year's shouting matches.