America's Space Program: Scientific Discoveries for Everyone
NASA leads the nation on a great journey of discovery, seeking new knowledge and understanding of our planet Earth, our Sun and solar system, and the universe out to its farthest reaches and back to its earliest moments of existence. NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) uses space observatories to conduct scientific studies of the Earth from space, to visit and return samples from other bodies in the solar system, and to peer out into our Galaxy and beyond. Through our publicly available mission data sets, education and public outreach programs, Web sites, and other participatory exploration programs, we continue to extend our long tradition of openness and active community involvement in scientific exploration.
Our flight missions range from suborbital projects-including balloons, sounding rockets, and airplanes-to interplanetary probes and flagship observatories. All investigations and missions selected and flown must respond to science goals and strategic objectives that were crafted by the input from the science community. The majority of the approximately 70 spacecraft currently operating in space are selected after a competition. When we issue an Announcement of Opportunity, this is open for universities, NASA Centers, non-profits, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), industry, and international partners (on a no-exchange-of-funds basis). Finally, we also have a very robust research and analysis program and announce our Research Opportunities in the Space and Earth Sciences (or ROSES) together with other solicitation on the NSPIRES Web site (nspires.nasaprs.com). We use a peer review process to evaluate and select research proposals submitted in response to research announcements and archive previous solicitations and selections on the NSPIRES Web site.
We require our missions have robust education and public outreach (E/PO) programs. As policy, each mission dedicates at least one percent of their prime mission cost to E/PO, which equates to approximately $35 million annually. Many of the citizen engagement activities and participatory exploration projects come from the result of this policy. As an example of participatory exploration, through "DAWN Clickworkers" the public can help us count craters on two of the largest minor planets in our solar system-Ceres and Vesta. This information will help us better understand the age and impact history of their surface.
We understand the linkage between exciting scientific discovery and the aspirations for students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. As such, we provide university students the opportunity to develop, build, and operate science instruments on NASA spacecraft through our Student Collaboration activity. Initially started as a "bonus" criteria for new missions, we now have a new policy where Principle Investigators on NASA science missions are provided with an incentive (up to 0.5 percent of the cost of the mission) to fund the Student Collaboration. Such efforts could involve the development of an instrument, investigation of scientific questions, data analysis or modeling, development of supporting hardware or software, or other aspects of the mission. As an example, undergraduate students will operate Mooncam, the Student Collaboration on the GRAIL mission and provide the images to middle school students.
We are a community of scientists and instill the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration in everything we do to better understand our home planet, our sun, our solar system and the universe beyond. From establishing science priorities, selecting missions, conducting research, to making discoveries, a community of scientists, engineers, and sometimes even the general public play a pivotal role in ensuring our success. Since our mission data is publicly available on the Web anyone in the world can look at it and educators can freely get images and mission information for classrooms. We will continue to experiment with new ways of doing business and collaborating with new stakeholders. As demonstrated with E/PO and Student Collaboration, as successes occur we will solidify our practices with appropriate policy.