System Roadmap Committee Statement on the NSF/AST Portfolio Review

The Ground-based OIR System Roadmap Committee (SRC) has issued a statement on the NSF/AST Portfolio Review Committee (PRC) report. The statement, based on the 2011 SRC Survey of the US OIR community, describes the profound adverse impact on ground-based astronomy and the OIR System if the Committee's recommendations are implemented as described in their report. The SRC statement makes several recommendations regarding the NSF implementation of the report that are based on the SRC survey and are intended to reflect the views of the broad community. The recommendations call on NSF to:  

  • Maintain the health of the OIR System — Preserve OIR’s ability to match highly motivated people with creative ideas to resources (e.g., vital facilities and instruments), a proven approach to discovery science that preserves the health of the profession.
  • Be flexible in implementing the report — Encourage and enable creative ways to leverage NSF funding to maximize the scientific return from NSF investment in facilities. 
  • Preserve opportunity — Explore and encourage new funding arrangements for Kitt Peak facilities. 
  • Preserve and coordinate investment in instrumentation.
  • Engage AURA in maximizing the cost efficiency of NSF-funded OIR facilities. 

We welcome your comments and questions on the SRC statement. Comments will be moderated for spam and approved within 24 hours. Please note: the "Homepage" and "Subject" fields below are optional. 

Comments (2)

OIR System and Astronomers at Small Institutions

I fully support the statement from the System Roadmap Committee. I fully understand the squeeze that NSF AST expects as new and expensive facilities are coming on-line, in an era of flat or contracting budgets. It is clear that there must be a "new normal."

But as an optical astronomer at a small liberal arts college, with no preferred access to independent observing facilities, I fear for the future for myself, my students, and my colleagues at similar institutions. NOAO facilities at KPNO and CTIO have provided the primary platform for my research for decades, leading to a few dozen publications.

At least as important have been the profound research experiences gained by a few dozen undergraduate students, and the indirect/vicarious experiences for far more from interactions in or out of classes. Of students who have worked with me on a BA honors thesis or on summer research projects, a few have gone on to become professional astronomers, while a far larger number are pursuing careers in other fields. But ALL of them will carry with them always an understanding of and appreciation for science, and the value of scientific research--something that is altogether too lacking in the general US population, it seems.

If open access to OIR facilities contracts in such a draconian fashion as the PRC report suggests, I fear that the sort of experience that has nourished me and my students for decades will end, or at best severely contract. I have used Gemini (South) in the past, and may again, but the kinds of the projects I have chosen to take on are typically carried out as well or better using smaller instruments.

I wish that I had a good solution, but I think that the SRC's statement urging flexibility for NOAO, and for AURA, to provide some reasonable degree of open access--in both hemispheres--in future is sound and prudent.

Science in a Nutshell

My parents live in Tucson, my dad is a volunteer docent at the observatory. When my family visits we make at least one trip a year up to the observatory. My kids are grown now but they loved going up there. In a way, it's science in a nutshell. This country needs all the exposure to science it can get. Closing down the observatory would have a huge negative impact on all of us, especially the science community and our future. I hope you can resolve the issues that have created this problem and keep Kitt Peak open.
Kathy Spitler
Chromo, Colorado

Last updated or reviewed December 23, 2012.