Status Report

DPS Mailing #05-05: NASA announcement of Discovery Proposals

By SpaceRef Editor
February 7, 2005
Filed under ,

Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2005 14:03:04 -0600
From: Linda French
To: Recipient List Suppressed: ;
Subject: DPS Mailing #05-05: Message from the Chair….

Greetings, DPS Colleagues,

Dear Colleagues:

Last week saw another ominous development for planetary science. On Wednesday, NASA announced its selections from the latest (11th) round of Discovery proposals. From 18 proposals, no stand-alone flight missions were selected, an unprecedented occurrence.

The DPS is stunned by this decision. Discovery proposals require a tremendous amount of unfunded work by Principal Investigators (PIs), their Co-Investigator teams, NASA centers, other research centers and laboratories, and their industry partners.

Are we to believe that none of the flight missions proposed merited going to “Phase A,” which is not selection for flight, but selection for further detailed study to determine suitability for flight?

The Discovery Program is one of NASA’s most innovative and cost-effective programs. It is a major and in our judgment irreplaceable part of planetary exploration. Incredible ideas are conceived, and if all goes well, brought to fruition. Missions are flown, such as Pathfinder, NEAR, Lunar Prospector, Stardust, Genesis, Messenger, and Deep Impact, that frankly never would have had little chance of being flown under the old way of doing business.

While the Discovery proposal PIs have yet to be debriefed on the details of each evaluation, we do know that some submitted proposals have heritage from earlier rounds and have in past Discovery proposal cycles simultaneously received the highest possible scientific ranking and the lowest possible risk ranking.

Last week, NASA also announced that the next Discovery AO would be released soon, and officials have told us that both the cost cap would be raised and the existing budget profile restrictions would be relaxed. These are welcome developments, but the effect of last week’s non-selection will likely adversely affect the applicant pool regardless of the scope of the program in the future.

As we noted above, qualified teams and their industrial partners have invested their own resources, countless man-hours and (all together) millions of dollars. But in the face of such seemingly arbitrary actions by the Agency, they cannot be expected to continue doing so. And as a result, America’s space program is the loser.

In effect, the non-selection of potential mission candidates for study means that a Discovery mission has been cancelled, and the Discovery selection process has failed. We call upon NASA to conduct an open selection-process failure analysis, just as it would for a flight mission loss.

The paradigm of PI-led missions like Discovery represents American enterprise, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship at its best. The Discovery Program, and the nascent New Frontiers Program, and the smaller scale Explorer programs, all PI-led, must not be allowed to falter. The DPS strongly urges NASA to reaffirm its support for the Discovery and other PI-led programs by making mission selections in response to NASA Aos, and to work with Congress to ensure the funding of these missions.

Finally, we note that last week’s decision takes place against the background of profound change in NASA’s directions and priorities, more details of which are expected in the FY06 Federal Budget to be released Monday, February 7th. The AAS and DPS will be closely analyzing the implications of the budget for NASA and the programs within it.

In the meantime, letters, phone calls, and faxes to NASA and the press in support of the Discovery and other PI-led programs are critically important. These could stress 1) your disappointment in the recent non-selection and 2) your support for Discovery and other PI-led programs; request that 3) NASA openly investigate the causes of this non-selection; and most important, that 4) NASA recommit itself to making competitive selections in these programs.

We ask you, however, to also prepare for a much larger effort that we may be calling upon you to undertake, which transcends our serious concerns for individual programs.

On behalf of the DPS Committee,

Bill McKinnon
DPS Chair

SpaceRef staff editor.