Monday, August 16, 2010

NAS's Astro2010 Decacal Survey recommendations

The National Academies of Sciences has released its Astro2010 decadal survey report and recommendations. A PDF of the release presentation is also available on that site. The panel's recommendations influence what programs NASA, NSF and DOE pursue and fund in astronomy and astrophysics for the next decade, so this is a big deal.

So far I've only read the presentation, and looked at Steinn Sigurdsson's comments on his blog [1, 2], so what follows is by no means a complete and final assessment.

My personal take is that its a mix of the good and the bad.

Whats good (from my perspective at least):
  • A strong endorsement and emphasis on revitalizing the Explorer class mission program. This had suffered badly under O'Keefe and Griffin.
  • A strong recognition of the importance of feedback, and flows of matter and energy into and out of galaxies (the 8th, 9th, and 10th points on slide 9 of the PDF copy of presensation).
Whats bad:
  • IXO ranks 4th, behind some wide field IR telescope focussed on Dark Energy (yawn, a couple of billion bucks to get one not-very-interesting number) and LISA. IXO will only get $180m in the next decade, so basically that pushes it back to ~2030? And probably kills its chances in the ESA mission rankings too. Given that Constellation-X (IXO's forerunner prior to the merger with ESA) came 2nd (after JWST) in the previous decadal and IXO thought it had a good chance of coming 1st this time the current ranking is a real blow.
  • LISA is somehow ranked as lower risk (and cheaper) than IXO! Seriously?
  • Funding for astrophysics doesn't look like it going to get better.
  • Unless you're an optical/IR astronomer, or the three gravitational wave astronomers, you're in for a bad decade and a half. X-ray astronomy, UV astronomy, and radio seem to be in trouble.
  • From my perspective there is a disconnect between the science priorities for the next decade and the missions endorsed. Feedback and the galaxy/IGM interconnection isn't going to be answered by JWST, WFIRST, LISA or any Explorer mission