Monday, March 13, 2006

NASA: Dear Colleagues - You Move to Fast

NASA Associate Administrator Mary Cleave has a Dear Colleague Letter out - it is to you.
Read it, the whole thing.

Short version:

  • NASA science mission directorate is being reorganised into 4 bits

  • NASA will "reconstitute" the advisory committees - I'm still not clear why they were suspended for a year.
    One overall NAC, 4 Divsion committees (Earth, Sun, Planets, Astrophysics). + Planetary Protection as bonus.

  • "...It is the responsibility of [science] working with [exploration] to make sure that NASA conducts the science that enables human exploration, as well as the science that is enabled by human exploration..." - I think that might be the money quote
    So, magnetosphere and solar radiation environment is important; Lunar exploration is important.
    The rest, not so much.
    Interesting interpretation

  • It is official, science is losing $3 billion to shuttle. So they can shut shuttle down without losing face. But NASA will continue to make long term plans and shit.

  • R & A is to be cut 15%. Due to ongoing funding committments that means 50% cut in new funding. Ha Ha.
    But they will make sure student funding is maintained; just no postdoc positions.

  • We HEART heliophysics. Lucky sods.

  • Mars. We HEART Mars. But no humans - ignore what we said before.

  • Astrobiology has grown rapidly (because, like it used to be zero?) and therefore it needs to be cut before it becomes successful. Er, it is all about Mars anyways, and although we just said we HEART Mars, we're actually cutting Mars. Ha Ha.

  • Astrophysics: hey just be glad you got Hubble. Maybe. Anyway we'll continue to spend money on a refurbishment mission, so we can plan a different refurbishment next year when we change our mind again.
    More? You want more? Ha Ha.

Look! Charts and diagrams...
Read them carefully and you'll see we fire people who don't get with the program. Ha Ha.

Seriously: NASA makes multi-year plans, and announces research priorities, sometimes even in some accordance with the priorities suggested by those pesky advisory committees.
Universities and research organizations make plans and committ resources expecting these plans to have some semblance to reality... this means real money: faculty are hired, buildings built, labs equipped, students taken on, courses set up, in the expectation that there is some actual real long term interest in this capacity. Sometime around the 3rd or 4th time in short succession that these priorities are trashed and reset and whole sub-fields defunded just as the get going and have built up expertise, then the University admins notice, and they get pissed, and they won't play anymore. Well, not for about 5 years, and then we get New Deans and Provosts who have no institutional memory.
And you know what, $5 millions in Graduate Research Fellowships doesn't make up for it; hell, the GSRP stipend right now is so low that it costs universities several $k in unrestricted funds for top-up to minimal regular stipend each time someone gets one.

Hm, me thinks we start planning a telescope on the Moon. Again.
A real big, multiwavelength telescope...

Food, glorious food!
What wouldn't we give for
That extra bit more --
That's all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Fabulous food


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