Monday, April 17, 2006

NASA: Long Term Sod All

An e-mail emerges from the bowels of NASA HQ and arrives in my box, via a friend of a friend of a friend. Or was it just a friend, I forget.

Anyway, short version:

NO LTSA - ever, if I parse the message correctly

ATP and BEFS share a pot, which is 30% or so smaller.

No word on ADP. (Let me know if you hear anything).

Long version:

NASA solicits a number of "unsolicited proposals" each year (these are open, anyone can apply solicitations - as opposed to the "you, you and you (or just You) - give us a quote for this here particular Giga$ project Now, Please).
Mostly these are done through the ROSES omnibus solicitation.

Now, most solicitations are "mission specific", some mission funded is "guaranteed" to center researchers, or scientists who did instrument development etc. This comes with funding.
The "great observatories" have their own "guest" proposal rounds, independent of the ROSES, where you can apply for time (including archival and theory work, though the theory budgets range from zero to tiny). With time, comes money (see it is true!). This is a signficant funding line for university and external researchers, but, it is spotty, haphazard and spread thin.
It is, for example, very hard to put together multi-year funding for a postdoc researcher from any one Hubble observing project (only the very largest, and rarest, proposals have enough money to pay for ~ 3 years of postdoc). And since competition is fierce, it is hard, and unpredictable, whether any given researcher or team will have back-to-back proposals to roll science staff over from year-to-year.

Enter ROSES. Some of the key lines of ROSES research are the LTSA, ADP, ATP and Foundation Science proposals.

These are NOT mission specific, they need to be relevant to NASA, in some cases must be NON mission specific, or specific only to future planned missions (especially the Foundation Science stuff).
They are also typically multi-year; 1-3 years typically, except LTSA (Long Term Space Astrophysics) which is usually for 5 year projects.
LTSA is also valuable because a significant part of the funding is set aside for junior researchers. This typically either allows senior research associates to self-fund for multi-year projects, or for junior faculty to get a serious research program going before tenure (it also helps in the transition, senior postdocs with LTSAs often quickly become faculty hiring postdocs for the last 2-4 years of the funding!). LTSA is also one of the "tickets" junior faculty want to get stamped to get tenure...

LTSA is long term, as close to "blue sky research" as NASA does.
Now, last year LTSA applications were temporarily suspended for a year with the then budget squeeze.
This year, it was re-suspended, then put in limbo pending review, and now apparently it is reviewed, and...
It is now dead.

I suspect three problems; it costs money, something like 1% of the current projected cost overrun for the Crewed Exploration Vehicle each year.
It is a long term committment, it reduces funding flexibility in the out years, where the budget projections are even worse.
And, it is not tied to missions, it is planning for the future. And, NASA is not planning any science missions for the future, so why do research on that stuff?

So, it is, according to reliable sources, cut. Gone. Dead. Or maybe it is just sleeping...

Interesting times.

PS I am told that looking at "technology solicitations" in the current proposal round is interesting.
These are split between lots of different sub-divisions, so getting the overall picture requires work.
I have heard this work has been done, and there is a 70% cut in technology development for future missions.
ie there is not technology development for future missions now, essentially only late stage implementation of current tech for missions in the pipeline is being done.
But, since no new missions are planned this of course does not matter.
I mean a decade from now NASA can just press a red button and Staples will deliver some brand new bleeding edge tech space qualified and ready.
It must be true, I saw it on television.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

With time, comes money (see it is true!).

So you've heuristically proved the lemma for the proof that women are evil...

9:26 PM  

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