NASA relies on the science community to identify and prioritize leading-edge scientific questions and the observations required to answer them. One principal means by which NASA’s Science Mission Directorate engages the science community in this task is through the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC conducts studies that provide a science community consensus on key questions posed by NASA and other U.S. Government agencies. The broadest of these studies in NASA’s areas of research are decadal surveys. As the name implies, NASA and its partners ask the NRC once each decade to look out ten or more years into the future and prioritize research areas, observations, and notional missions to make those observations.
The NRC completed its first decadal survey for Earth science, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (NRC, 2007) in January 2007 at the request of NASA, NOAA, and USGS. [At this URL, click on “Sign In” to download a free pdf of the report.] At the highest level, the report recommends that: “The U.S. government, working in concert with the private sector, academe, the public, and its international partners, should renew its investment in Earth-observing systems and restore its leadership in Earth science and applications.”
Detailed recommendations in the decadal survey are provided in three categories:
* Setting the Foundation: Observations in the Current Decade * New Observations for the Next Decade * Turning Satellite Observations into Knowledge and Information
For the next decade, the decadal survey identified 15 new space missions for NASA (including 1 joint mission with NOAA) and 3 missions for NOAA (including the 1 joint mission). The 15 missions for NASA are presented in three time-phased blocks. Importantly, the 17 missions are presented as the result of a “prioritization methodology designed to achieve a robust, integrated program”(pg. 7) and the “missions listed…form a minimal, yet robust, observational component of an Earth information system that is capable of addressing a broad range of societal needs.”