NASA Tech Briefs: Where does the Science Director fit in the process at Ames?
Dr. Michael Bicay: There are a number of directorates at each NASA center, including Ames. We happen to have four technical directorates here, and science is one of the four. We are responsible for about 160 civil servants within the science directorate, working in various research and project support across space, earth, and life sciences.
NTB: What challenges do you address?
Bicay: There are a variety of challenges. I’d say the biggest challenge we face in Ames’ science these days is revectoring ourselves towards NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. A lot of the work we do out here is relevant, strategically relevant, to the Vision. However, the nature to how we fund ourselves is very unsustainable. About 80% of our revenue, within the science directorate, has historically come from small research and analysis awards managed by the science mission directorate at NASA Headquarters. And it’s a far higher fraction than comparable NASA centers or any other research-oriented institution within the federal government. It’s a very unsustainable mix in today’s climate where the pressure on the R&A program is immense — not only within NASA, but most of the proposals actually come from university-based communities — so there is great pressure on the available resources.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s unsustainable because we need to move to an environment where we have larger programs and projects here at Ames. And so my biggest challenge in the coming years is to start a transformation to move Ames science to a more strategically relevant and more sustainable business base.
There are a couple of different possibilities here. One that comes to mind immediately is lunar science and technology development. I believe with our expertise in planetary science — the whole gamut of planetary sciences, including geophysics, meteorology, the study of planetary rings, and a variety of other subsets — that we are well-positioned to contribute to the agency’s interest in the Moon and hopefully beyond that to Mars. And to the extent that NASA spends 10 or 15 years going back to the Moon, I believe Ames as a lot to offer, both in fleshing out the science that can be enabled by a return to the Moon, and also participating in some of the technology developments we need to sustain long-duration sorties on the lunar surface, and hopefully, one day on Mars.