Status Report

Space Science Advisory Committee (SScAC) Meeting Minutes 5-7 Mar 2002

By SpaceRef Editor
March 5, 2002
Filed under ,


NASA Headquarters
March 5-7, 2002

Letter to Associate Administrator Dr. Edward Weiler from Dr. Andrew Christensen, Chair of SScAC

Dear Ed:

The Space Science Advisory Committee (SScAC) met at NASA Headquarters on March 5-7, 2002. Our findings and recommendations from this meeting are summarized below.

This was my first meeting as chair and although I came with great apprehension, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. The committee members are to be thanked for their friendship and willingness to share their experiences and perspectives. For myself and insofar as I can speak for other members of the committee, we are glad to work for the advancement of science within the NASA framework and programs. It is our honor to serve as we can and remain open to suggestions of how to improve our effectiveness as we look forward to help you do the same.

FY2003Ê Budget Presentation

Guenter Riegler reviewed the key features of the FY 2003 President’s Budget. We were delighted to see the proposed increase in the 5-yr run-out rate for the OSS budget. We interpret this as concrete evidence for the strength of OSS programs and the outstanding leadership provided by you and your staff. We noted that the growth of the program exceeds inflation. The out-year projections are very encouraging but we know how fragile they are in reality. We are hopeful that this budget will translate into a continuation of the excellent research that has become a hallmark of space science projects in OSS.

We questioned the reasons for the apparent decreases in the Discovery and Explorer Programs in FY03. We understand that, regardless of near term adjustments, both programs and the New Frontiers mission lines are slated for substantial growth through 2007. The SScAC reiterates its strongest support for these fully competed lines.

As part of his presentation, Dr. Riegler showed a pie chart of competed versus non-competed expenditures in the R&A budget category. The committee feels that this chart is misleading and exaggerates the actual amount of competed funds. SScAC suggests that it be revised in view of the importance of this issue to policy makers and the scientific community.

During the discussion period, we encountered the issue of funding of research that fell between NSF and NASA jurisdiction, including programs like NVO, ground-based observations in support of past, present, or future NASA missions, and analytical facilities. The committee would like to be kept informed about the developments generated by the National Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee. We understand that a headquarters committee has been designated to discuss issues with NSF in the near future. The committee would like to have a briefing of the results of that meeting and to engage in a general discussion of the issues with you and your staff at a future SScAC meeting.

Technology Follow-up

One of the main topics of discussion at the December SScAC meeting was the technology planning process within OSS. Although we had not scheduled a technology presentation at this meeting, there was a strong desire to follow up on the topic. Harley Thronson agreed toprovide an impromptu update on discussions between Code R and Code S.

The SScAC thanks Harley Thronson and the rest of the OSS technology team for aggressively pursuing a joint technology utilization program to help leverage NASA’s investment in technology development managed by Code R. The portion of the funds intended to support OSS needs was stated to be ~40% of the $254MÊÊ Pioneering Revolutionary Technology (PRT) program. In view of the significant impact of Code R investment on technology relevant to future Code S missions, we would appreciate additional insight into the selection and review processes used by Code R to manage these programs. As a first step in gaining insight into this cooperation, the SScAC requests detailed briefings from the Code R managers at our June meeting, summarizing the content of this program and the match-up between needs and funded technology development.Ê These briefings should also include information on any other cooperative arrangements with agencies such as the DoD and DoE.

Mars Exploration Program

The SScAC heard a report on the status of the Mars Exploration Program from the Director, Orlando Figueroa. Based on the remarkable success of MGS and Mars Odyssey missions, it is clear that the MEP has embarked on an exciting decade of exploration that promises to dramatically improve our understanding of Mars as a planet. The Committee was pleased to learn that the R&A budget for Mars will increase from 1% in FY02 to 1.7% by FY04. We also appreciate MEP efforts to obtain a more accurate risk assessment for the 2003 MER mission.

The MER mission is aggressively scheduled and Orlando’s presentation identified clear warning signs (cost, schedule, workforce safety) that suggest that MER is dangerously close to a path of significant risk. While we are encouraged by the fact that MER is managed by people who are willing to make hard decisions, the SScAC strongly cautions against pushing risks to an unacceptable level, a path the MEP has been down before. SScAC believes that the success of a single rover mission is of the highest priority and the entire program should not be put at risk if a second MER places impossible strains in budget or schedule.

Nuclear Systems Initiative

The Committee was pleased to learn about plans for the Nuclear Systems Initiative in the President’s FY03 budget. The Committee recognizes that development of new power and propulsion sources will provide fundamental technologies that will enable new exciting possibilities in the space program. SScAC fully supports the objectives of the initiative. We urge the Office of Space Science to nurture this technology development effort. ÊRadioisotope power systems and nuclear power and propulsion technology are crucial enabling technologies that are sure to lead to new paradigms for space science exploration in the next decade.

The Committee also recognizes the need for Multiple Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator for Mars missions in this decade.


Jeff Rosendhal provided the committee an enthusiastic update on E/PO efforts within OSS. It has been several years since the committee received an update from Jeff, and clearly significant progress in reaching the public has been achieved through his leadership and dedication. We encourage E/PO efforts to reach disadvantaged K-12 communities. The committee looks forward to the results of the Task Force that will be meeting during the next few months to help evaluate how well OSS has carried out its E/PO Implementation Plan to reach the public and influence education.

OSS Thematic Structure and Budget Categories

The Code-S structure contains elements that are managerial, programmatic, and thematic. There are three divisions containing four scientific themes, three funding lines, and multiple initiatives. The current Roadmap process will generate new concepts for missions that will need to be integrated into this structure. It became clear to the SScAC that our community, and indeed the members of the SScAC, barely understand the budgeting system and budget categories. Hence we are unable to explain, for example, how new strategic missions can be accommodated in the various lines with existing cost caps, and whether new missions can be appended or even inserted (traded) in existing themes such as Origins. We heard a remarkably clear exposition of the mission funding structure from Roy Maizel that convinced us that this information would be of great value to the science community. We request that Marc Allen work with Roy Maizel to prepare a description of the system that we could include in our Òcommunity letterÓ so that our colleagues can benefit from this information. Included in the summary, perhaps in the form of a spread sheet, would be a guide to the mission lines and initiatives. This includes Discovery, Explorer, Solar Terrestrial Probes, New Horizons, Scout and other flight opportunities. The committee would like to be informed about the reasons for the various cost caps, the various ground rules for science to be addressed, the frequency and other items that distinguish the various mission lines.


The committee perceives that the integration of biologists into the subcommittee structure has been slow. Given that life is a common thread in Solar System Exploration, Origins and Sun Earth Connection (and has become the unifying concept for the NASA vision and mission statements). The SScAC would like to work toward an improvement in this situation.

Small Launch Vehicles

A concern regarding the status of launch capabilities for small payloads was raised. The Committee requests a briefing at the June meeting regarding NASA plans.

Best Wishes

ÊAndrew B. Christensen
Chair, SScAC

cc: SScAC
M. Allen
J. Alexander
O. Figueroa
R. Fisher
C. Hartman
A.ÊÊÊÊ Kinney
H. Thronson
J. Kearns

Dear Colleague,

NASA’s Space Science Advisory Committee (SScAC) met in Washington D.C. on March 5-7, 2002. This letter to the community summarizes the key finding and recommendations from the meeting.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Guenter Riegler regarding the Office of Space Science (OSS) budget as contained in the Presidents FY 2003 submission to Congress. There is growth in the budget that exceeds inflation. This is due to the success of NASA’s space science programs and reflects the acknowledgement of our scientific endeavors as a priority in the Administration. The out-year projections were very encouraging and will hopefully be accomplished to continue and expand the excellent research that has become a hallmark of the space science projects in OSS.

The budget includes a new Nuclear Systems Initiative that calls for the development of new power and propulsion source technologies. The committee strongly supported the initiative as providing fundamental enabling technologies and expects that the nuclear power capabilities shall lead to new exciting possibilities for future space exploration missions.

Nevertheless, the committee recognized that funding in the out years and especially funding for new initiatives are tentative and fragile. We are hopeful that continued success of OSS missions and recognition of the importance of OSS to the mission of NASA will translate into continued support by the Administration and Congress.

Mars Exploration Program Director, Orlando Figueroa, reported on the status of the Program. We were pleased with the remarkable success of Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) and Mars Odyssey missions which are currently in operation about Mars. However, we remain concerned about the Mars Exploration Rovers mission scheduled for launch in June 2003. There are schedule, cost and workforce safety risks that require attentive management. The SScAC cautioned against pushing risks to an unacceptable level and recognized that the success of a single Rover mission is of the highest priority.

The jurisdictional boundary between NSF and NASA funding was an important topic of discussion. Research that falls between the two agencies, including programs like NVO, ground-based observations in support of past, present, or future NASA missions, and analytical facilities were of concern. It is anticipated that the newly created National Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee will address such issues. As SScAC receives further information, we will report to the community.


Marc, we wanted to include a discussion of the budget categories in this part of the letter. What is a reasonable estimate of when we might see that?


Andrew Christensen
Chair, SScAC

SpaceRef staff editor.