Thursday, March 02, 2006


Recently I saw some slides from a public NASA HQ presentation made a few weeks ago.
It is on the timeline for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, and the Navigator program beyond that.

On one slide, there's a footnote - NSPD Jan 2004. with a quote from that directive that I paraphrase:
Use advanced telescopes to detect and characterize planets outside the solar system

Now, 2+ years ago I had a conversation with a guy from NASA HQ.
I wanted to know why the Beyond Einstein program had been deprioritized and Navigator (as it came to be called) jumped up, in spite of committee recommendations that the planet imagers followon later (I wasn't exactly displeased, I have reasons to want both programs to go ahead, but I was very curious what caused the change in priorities).
He told me that this was a National Security Directive and was not to be argued with by NASA HQ.
Executiver Order had jumped TPF to a top priority and anything associated with planet finding was pushed up as far as possible.

I blogged cryptically on this before - here and links in it

Here is the FAS list of known NSPDs, note most are not published and some are classified. Title of some is not known.

Then, in the AO for Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter there is an explicit reference to the Jan 2004 (Jan 14?) NSPD-31 with some text quoted.

Rationale: Established by NPSD31 (Section B, The Moon.)

(1.1.) All exploration programs shall incorporate explicit opportunities for public engagement, education, and outreach.

Rationale: Just as Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo challenged a generation of Americans, a renewed U.S. space exploration program with a significant human component can inspire us and our youth to greater achievements on Earth and in space.

Implement a sustained, safe, and affordable human and robotic program to search for evidence of life, understand the history of the solar system, and prepare for future human exploration.
Rationale: Established by NPSD31 (Goals and Objectives, first bullet).

Advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.

Rationale: Established by Presidents Space Exploration Policy Directive (NPSD31) (Goal and Objectives Goal), signed into effect on January 2004.

Be interesting to know Section A. And C if it exists...

Ok, NASA is a branch of the Executive, it is subject to direction by the President (within the authorization and budget appropriation Congress provides, and in compliance with US Laws and Treaties).
I am actually quite pleased that Space warrants not just a Presidential Directive but two of them (NSPD-40 also, which is clearly National Security relevant).

I am a bit puzzled as to why Planet Finding is a Presidential Directive on National Security, but I am sure there was fine rationale for it.

I am a bit disappointed that this bypassed prioritization and advisory channels, I tend to favour by-the-book process, but ok still, modulo the bloody whiplash the scientific community gets when reprioritization like that is done.

BUT, and riddle me this... WHAT CHANGED THIS YEAR???

In 2004 and 2005 we trash NASA science priorities in the name of NSPD-31 to put extrasolar planets first. Ok, we can do that.
In 2006, planets are like soooo last year and all future missions are indefinitely postponed, the labs shut down and science teams disbanded and the research funding slashed to pieces?

Is NSPD-31 superceded?
Is it revoked?
Is it creatively reinterpreted?

You couldn't run a High School Glee Club this way, much less a multi-billion dollar agency with National Security at stake.

So, someone please tell me there is an explanation for all this?


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