White House and Congressional Staff Brief NRC Planetary Science Decadal Survey Committee

White House and Congressional Staff Brief NRC Planetary Science Decadal Survey Committee

During the second day of the NRC’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey steering committee meeting, White House and Congressional staff gave the committee somewhat conflicting messages. The committee is kicking off its two-year consensus-making exercise to recommend priorities for research in planetary science at NASA and NSF for the decade 2013-2023.

While Day 1 of the meeting focused on briefings from the study’s sponsors, NASA and NSF, Day 2 brought in viewpoints from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as well Congress. All emphasized the importance the White House and Congress attach to recommendations in the NRC’s Decadal Surveys, calling the Surveys “touchstones” and “key reference points” for their own deliberations.

OMB’s Amy Kaminski and OSTP’s Damon Wells strongly advised the committee to keep its recommended program within the bounds of the FY2010 budget now under consideration by Congress and its “outyear” projections. They stressed they were not trying to forecast the future, but in light of country’s economic situation, they view budget increases for NASA as unlikely.

Their message was in contrast to what the committee heard from NASA’s Jim Green the previous day. Dr. Green urged the committee to wait for the FY2011 budget that will be released next February, which he believes will better reflect Obama Administration priorities. The OMB/OSTP message also was in contrast to remarks by Dick Obermann and Ed Feddeman of the House Science and Technology Committee staff who reminded the group that it is Congress that ultimately decides budgets. Representing the Democratic and Republican viewpoints respectively, both advised the committee to focus their deliberations on the top scientific priorities, not the budget. While acknowledging that there are no blank checks, they stressed that if the science is sufficiently compelling, Congress could make additional funds available.

Following those presentations, the committee heard from representatives of the Applied Physics Lab, Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on how those institutions believe they can support the work of the Decadal Survey committee. The committee is required by law (the 2008 NASA Authorization Act) to obtain independent cost estimates of projects they recommend. Cost uncertainty is directly related to the maturity of the mission concept and it is expected that the committee will receive proposals in a variety of stages of maturity. The committee is seeking help from APL, Goddard and JPL on how to normalize the proposals so they can undergo a useful independent cost estimate. The presentations from APL and Goddard were not immediately available. JPL made the following four presentations:

JPL re Technical Support for the Decadal Survey

JPL re Rapid Mission Architectures

JPL re TeamX

JPL re In Depth Studies

The committee will meet in closed session tomorrow. To keep up on committee activities and future meetings, visit the NRC’s planetary science decadal survey website.

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