yet more NASA snippets

I have once more ventured within one of the strange spiky toroidal concrete circles that envelope US centers of power,
and I emerge with unverified anecdotal speculative rumours

NASA HQ people (science, natch) are amazingly cheerful.
Hadn’t seen them so cheerful, overall, for a long time.

More money has been allocated to Research and Analysis lines, in the current round, retroactively, kinda without telling anyone.
So success rates for current proposal rounds are in the double digits. Over 10%.
Actually, probably over 20%. I’ve heard some crazy doods mention 25% or even 33% or even 50% funding rate for some programs.

This is supposed to be sustained – they’re aiming for 33% long term funding rate, as recommended by an NRC review. (I see some problems with that, once the community figures out they mean it – the demand side of the supply/demand thing might change).

Proposal reviews are being expedited, awards are to be announced early, OMB willing, and funds to be sent out. There is of course the looming cloud of budget passage of the 2008 budget, with possibly veto and continuing resolutions etc
There is, reputedly, some intent for agencies to spend the funding appropriated as if it had passed – I am slightly queasy about this, on the one hand NASA and other agencies will actually have funding, eventually, they are not going to shut down, probably. On the other hand, going ahead with spending of funds in the absence of a passed and signed budget appropriations bill sounds like bad long term precedent, another tip to a dominating executive and a passive Congress which exists just to rubber stamp bills written and originated by the Executive.
Times like this I get flashbacks to history of the late Roman Republic…

Oh, the much beloved LTSA may re-emerge, in some form.
LTSA, for ye young ‘uns – is Long Term Space Astrophysics – a larger, longer duration and more “blue sky” less mission oriented research line.
Was a time a junior faculty who hit the LTSA jackpot could tick off a big box on the “things that get people tenure” list.
I also heard, anecdotally, that NASA was well aware of this – they had an internal NSF like attitude on this – and they were Not Amused when they heard of people who had got LTSAs and then not got tenure.
I hadn’t realised they tracked things at this level.

Sounds like the “new LTSA” will be maximum of 4 years, but that is better than nothing.

I also hear that proposal criteria will be subtly loosened.
That more ground based observation components can be included in supporting space based research, and that the boundaries between mission lines can be blurred so people can actually work on, like, more than one thing at the same time.

This is all hearsay, anecdotal and don’t blame me if none of it is true.

I may have more, later, or not.

In the meantime, back in the real world, I see there is a new Hubble Space Telescope oppurtunity: Lunar Observing.
HST has no functioning spectroscope.
NICMOS broadband photometry, anyone?


  1. #1 JohnD
    October 11, 2007

    Hmmm, anything you can do with the NICMOS coronagraph?

    Otherwise, why bother? :)

    Hope this means that the Michelson Fellowships are no longer delayed by 6mo.

  2. #2 Brad Holden
    October 11, 2007

    Y’all know NICMOS has a grism, right?
    And then there is UV imaging with WFPC2.

    Otherwise, this sounds like really possitive news, more R&A money, upbeat folks, and the resurrection of NuStarr is enough to give one hope. Well, at least until one looks at the front page of the newspaper.

  3. #3 Steinn Sigurdsson
    October 11, 2007

    Er, how will the grism do over a bright surface?
    Moon isn’t exactly a point source for HST – or is there a mask as well?

    near UV imaging with the planetary camera may get you mineralogy.
    We’ll have to ask the new NASA Lunar Science Institute!

  4. #4 Keith
    October 11, 2007

    Emily Lakdawalla has a good post on NASA night at the DPS meeting this week ( It looks like Alan Stern is really serious about not allowing mission overruns.

  5. #5 Paul
    October 11, 2007

    You’re about to say “Early April Fool’s,” right?

  6. #6 Brad Holden
    October 11, 2007

    Er, how will the grism do over a bright surface?

    Terribly, like it does on everything else.

    But, yea, you will have to be very clever, targeting the limb on the non-illuminated part. I have no idea if this is even possible.

    And I would guess short, short exposures.

    For the proposal, mumble about Bracket lines or something, people still want to find water on the moon, right?

  7. #7 Andrew Foland
    October 11, 2007

    Presumably, successful proposals all point outwards. I don’t imagine a lot of earth-climate-change proposals are getting funded…

    I’d love to hear I imagine wrong!

  8. #8 Steinn Sigurdsson
    October 11, 2007

    Well, I do not speak for NASA in any conceivable way, and these are all unverifiable unsourced anecdotal rumours.
    And the actual money is not there yet.
    But, I’m not joking.

    I have not heard what is going on over in Earth Science – I don’t know if money has been injected in there at the base the way it has in astrophysics.

    The Planetary Society blog entry in comments above is very interesting both on the positives and the possible cons.
    I may hear more about Earth Science soon, will say if I can find out anything rumoured to be going on.

  9. #9 Jane Rigby
    October 16, 2007

    Encouraging rumors! LTSA is much-missed.

    Any rumors on the no-cryo extended Spitzer mission? It’s a clear winner science-wise (targets for JWST; galaxy stellar masses to z=5+). But there are worries on the west coast that HQ might not greenlight it.

  10. #10 Steinn Sigurdsson
    October 16, 2007

    Yeah, I don’t have anything definite, but I have heard that HQ thinks the warm Spitzer cycles are looking too expensive and too open ended – I’d expect them either to cut the GO support or cap the number of cycles, or both.

    Usual caveat – I don’t KNOW anything, I am interpreting anecdotal comments and unverified statements. I’d be quite surprised if there is not one full warm cycle, albeit possible with less $/hour for GOs, but I’d also be surprised if Spitzer is left on until the gyros fail in full support warm mode…

  11. #11 Jane Rigby
    October 19, 2007

    SSC estimates $110M, cumulative, for 3 yrs of warm mission, divided into 50 for operations and 60 for users. Cheaper than a MIDEX, and it’s already working & calibrated. Presumably they could bring the cost down by slashing archive & GO proposal funding.

    The science case is strong (white papers at IRAC now measures stellar masses down to 10^10 Msun out to z=2, and 10^11 out to z=4. That’s from exposures not close to the confusion limit, so sensitivity will grow as root time. So, Mikly Way stellar masses out to high z. Plus, z~6–10 candidates for JWST.

    IMHO, HQ would be very dumb not to fund a few yr warm mission, plus archive support. Lots of science left to do.

  12. #12 Jane Rigby
    October 19, 2007

    Anal-retentive technical pt: Gyros don’t matter; a warm mission can’t last more than 5 yrs. After that, Spitzer will have fallen so far behind Earth in its orbit around the sun (the lag grows by 0.1 AU/yr), that it can’t point its antenna to Earth without baring its instruments to the sun. Certain death.

    5 yrs may still be more than NASA’s willing to support. But technically, it can’t drag on more than 5 yrs.

  13. #13 Steinn Sigurdsson
    October 19, 2007

    Good point on the lag, I had forgotten how rapid it is.
    I think Spitzer is likely to see at least a full year of warm cycle, but I would not be surprised to see the second and third year GO money cut – maybe clawing back $10-20M.
    Unless there is substantial new funding by then.
    There is new money appearing in surprising places in NASA SMD, but it has to come from somewhere and I think we’re going to hear where there is soon.

    I’m not saying it is a good idea, I am saying it is the sort of thing I have heard floated as the cost side of other things getting pushed up.

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