Newsletter No. 99, December 2011

Back to Contents

5. News from the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters
Jaya Bajpayee
Program Executive for Physics of the Cosmos Program & Operating Missions

Astrophysics Division Director (acting), Geoffrey Yoder, has taken leadership, to ensure the maximization of the science output for the current budget of approximately $700M, in a manner consistent with the 2010 Decadal report recommendations.

Program Management Quarterly Dialogue

In an effort to maximize information sharing among the Astrophysics Program Offices, share lessons learned, and provide each Program the opportunity to adopt the best practices of others, the Division has begun a quarterly dialogue among the Physics of the Cosmos, Cosmic Origins,
Exoplanet Exploration and Explorers Program Management. The objective of this leadership team is to develop overarching astrophysics programmatic strategies and prevent stove-piped management of the programs. The Team had its first meeting on November 8 at JPL.

Operating Mission Senior Review

Held every two years, the Operating Mission Senior Review evaluates proposals from operating missions for continued funding. The Astrophysics Division uses the Senior Review to maximize scientific productivity of operating missions that have completed prime operations.

A total of 9 projects have been invited to participate in the Astrophysics 2012 Senior Review to be held on February 28-March 2, 2012: Chandra, Fermi, Hubble, Kepler, Planck, Swift, Suzaku, Spitzer, and XMM-Newton.

The Division will use the findings of the 2012 Senior Review to:

* Prioritize the operating missions and projects.

* Define an implementation approach to achieve astrophysics strategic objectives.

* Provide programmatic direction to the missions and projects for two fiscal years following the Senior Review (FY 13 and FY 14)

* Issue initial funding guidelines for the 3rd and 4th fiscal years following the Senior Review (FY 15 and FY 16)

The call for proposals to the 2012 Senior Review, important dates, and results of the last several Senior Reviews can be found at the following website:

Upcoming Great Observatories Workshop

The previously planned National Research Council Study of the Great Observatory Ground Systems has been postponed. Prior to conducting such a study, the Division is planning a workshop among the Great Observatories to facilitate cross learning.

Explorer News

In response to the Announcements of Opportunity (AO) for the September 2011 selection, NASA received 15 Astrophysics Explorer mission proposals ($200M plus launch costs) and 11 Astrophysics Missions of Opportunity proposals ($55M). Two Explorers and two Missions of Opportunity were selected as shown below.

Astrophysics Explorer Selections
September 2011

Step 1 Mission Selection

First Infrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer (FINESSE)

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

Mission of Opportunity (MoO) Selection

Galactic/Xgalactic Ultra long duration balloon Spectroscopic Stratospheric THz Observatory (GUSSTO)

Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER)

A Future Astrophysics Explorers Program budget was created to increase the flight rate so as to achieve the recommendation of the 2010 Decadal report that four Explorer missions and four Missions of Opportunity be selected by the end of the decade.

Additional information regarding the Explorers program can be found at: http://explorers.gsfc.nasa.gov


In July 2011, the WFIRST Science Definition Team delivered the Interim Design Reference Mission report, which is a proof of concept for a mission that can be constructed compliant with the 2010 Decadal report recommendation for groundbreaking observations in Dark Energy. This report can be found at:

International Partners

The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected the Solar Orbiter and Euclid as the medium-class missions M1 and M2, respectively, and proposed that Planetary Transit and Oscillation of Stars (PLATO) continue in the competitive process for M3. Other candidates for the M3 competition are the Exoplanet Characterization Observatory (EChO), Large Observatory for X-Ray Timing (LOFT), MarcoPolo-R (sample return from a primitive near-Earth asteroid) and Space-Time Explorer and Quantum Equivalence Principle Space Test (STE-QUEST). Target launch dates for M1 and M2 missions are 2017 and 2019 respectively.

For more information on ESA's Cosmic Vision go to:

Personnel Changes:

Dr. Ed Weiler, the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, has retired as of September 30, 2011. Please join us in thanking Dr. Weiler for his many decades of service to NASA as we wish him the best.

Also leaving the Astrophysics Division is Dr. Thierry Lanz, who is assuming a new post as Director of the newly-formed Lagrange laboratory at l'Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur in Nice, France, starting January 2012. Thierry managed the Astrophysics Theory, Fundamental Physics and Astrophysics Archival Research Programs, and will be missed. We thank Thierry for his
many years of contributions to the Division and the community, and wish him good luck in his future endeavors.

Following is a list of new appointments.

* Dr. Billy Lightsey has joined on a detail appointment from Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to assist in managing the operating missions.

* Dr. Phil Stahl has joined on a detail appointment from MSFC to assist in overseeing the Directorate's Technology Program.

* Dr. Glenn Wahlgren has joined on an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA)assignment from Catholic University. He will serve as the Program Scientist for Laboratory Astrophysics, and Deputy Program Scientist for SOFIA.

And some new assignments:

* Dr. Christopher Davis is the new Program Scientist for SOFIA.

* Dr. Richard Griffiths is the new Program Scientist for GEMS.

* Dr. Hashima Hasan is the new Program Scientist of JWST.

* Dr. Hashima Hasan will manage the Astrophysics archives and Dr. Linda Sparke the Theory and Fundamental Physics programs after Dr. Thierry Lanz leaves NASA.

* Drs. Hashima Hasan, Ilana Harrus, and Lisa Wainio form the newly created communication team to ensure efficient messaging to our stakeholders.

Honors and Awards:

We would like to congratulate the following distinguished scientists on their recent recognitions:

* Drs. Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, and Adam G. Riess received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the "discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae."

* Dr. W. Vernon Jones, senior scientist, Astrophysics Division, NASA HQ received the:

+ 2011 AIAA Otto Winzen Lifetime Achievement Award. The award honors outstanding contributions and achievements in the advancement of free-flight balloon systems or related technologies. Jones is being honored for applying the vision of long-duration balloons to a better understanding of cosmology and the fundamental origins of our universe.

+ 2011 Yodh Prize for his outstanding contributions to balloon-borne cosmic ray and particle astrophysics experiments

* Drs. Gerald Fishman (MSFC) and Enrico Costa (Institute of Space Astrophysics and Cosmic Physics) shared the 2011 Shaw Prize in Astronomy for their leadership of space missions that enabled the demonstration of the cosmological origin of gamma ray bursts, the brightest sources known in the universe. Fishman was the principal investigator of the BATSE experiment aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, while Costa led the development of the Dutch-Italian satellite BeppoSAX.

* Dr. Benjamin A. Mazin, University of California, Santa Barbara, received the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) award. He was recognized for outstanding contributions to the development of ultra-sensitive, low-temperature detector arrays that provide energy resolution and arrival timing for photons from X-rays to the near infrared.

* Jonathan Cirtain from MSFC received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) award in 2011:

Back to Contents