who pays for Astronomy and astrophysics projects in the US – our collective stare into the void in search of cosmic answers? Well, we all do it by way of taxes that the government decides how to divide By balancing the annual appropriations.
But how did NASA decide to use the money it provided – about $23 billion in 2021? For its science missions in space and on Earth, the agency—and nearly all US space scientists—take their cues from the Decadal Survey of Astrophysics and Astronomy. In every decade since the 1960s, teams of hundreds of experts, led by a steering committee organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, have produced these massive reports intended to recommend space exploration and research in the next ten years and beyond.
This year’s poll – officially called “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1920sReleased today. Dubbed “Astro2020” for short, although it was launched in late 2021. It was due to be last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant delays in an already difficult process for the nearly 150 scientists who formed its committees. The 13 focus on topics such as cosmology, galaxies, stars, particle physics, and the state of the profession.To complete the survey, they examined nearly 900 white papers submitted by researchers from around the world, and completed hundreds of hours of Zoom meetings.
“It’s a very difficult process to complete over Zoom rather than in face-to-face meetings,” says Rachel Austin, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the Astro2020 steering committee. “So we had to figure out how to make it work with what we had.”
And those Zoom meetings drove the future of science itself. “What they decide affects what scientists do,” says Paul Goldsmith, group supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Decadal survey usually requires large and medium-sized specific missions with certain budgets; It also highlights important areas of scientific exploration for the next decade, and asks researchers to fill in the gaps in their work. Projects are funded – or not – based on what is in the survey.
Today’s 500-plus-page report prioritizes three scientific areas: the search for habitable exoplanets, the exploration of the early universe, and the study of gases to understand the evolution of galaxies. Within these categories, it calls for several missions, including the construction of a large infrared/optical/ultraviolet space telescope, the financing of far-infrared and X-ray missions, the continued growth of important terrestrial astronomy assets, and a smaller static drumbeat” investigation.” “- category of missions, increased investment in property rights in this area.
He also recommends revolutionizing the way key task proposals mature into realized projects, by creating a $1 billion program that will nurture concepts from their early stages to help ensure they are delivered on time and within budget. Proposing an overhaul of the process, rather than just picking one or two major projects, says Austin, “a game-changer in terms of how decadal surveys are typically conducted.” “You usually pick one project that’s the winner, and everyone else can go home.”
New pipeline for mega missions
Decadal surveys from the 1960s to the 1990s laid the foundation for NASA’s “Great Observatories” – the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. For decades, they have sent us images and seas of information from deep space about black holes, exoplanets, and more.
These projects, while incredibly important, are also notorious for budget delays. (Take, for example, a file James Webb Space Telescope, which will begin this fall after being included in the Decadal Survey All the Way in 2000.) “A decade is not the right timeline when considering projects with great vision,” Austin says. It’s not long enough to see a space mission from concept to launch; As such, it is often nearly impossible to estimate its actual cost while it is still in its early stages.