NASA drops its request of making delay in next astrophysics decadal

After two months of suggesting next major review of priorities in astrophysics research and missions for achieving those goals, the head of NASA’s science directorate said that the study should stay on its schedule and no changes should be made to it.

After reviewing an “analysis” which was by National Academies, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, concluded in a tweet that next astrophysics decadal survey which is also known as Astro2020 is not needed to be delayed.

He also wrote that the US Astrophysics community would take this as an excellent opportunity. 

Fiona Harrison, chair of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board, has sent that analysis letter sent to Zurbuchen on May 24 from Fiona Harrison. The message was all based on the astronomical community which recommended that it is not required to delay the start of Astro2020.

I have also informed my counterparts at National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, NASA’s co-sponsors of Astro2020, which NASA is ready to start with the 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics, said Paul Hertz.

Zurbuchen earlier suggested that Astro2020 was delayed in March after announced the delay in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Because of the uncertainty of the fate of NASA, its next large astrophysics mission which is known as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is also factored into the proposal to delay the decadal. According to NASA’s 2018 budget request, it is proposing for the cancellation of the mission; however, Congress is providing funds for the task in its final 2018 spending bill. Also, house bill which is for the fiscal year 2019 is funding this mission.

Many of astronomers were also opposing this delay. They made an argument that waiting until after JWST was in operation was not needed. Since it is doubtful that any early science study observation can have any significant effects on the findings of the study. This survey helped in finding out the top science issues relate to astrophysics and further proposed spacecraft missions and terrestrial telescope to research it.

NSF was also opposed to delaying and made it very clear that they would like to start on time with no changes, said Marcia Rieke. Furthermore, anecdotal discussions conducted among several astronomers suggest that astronomers would want to move ahead with the current schedule.

At present no member is selected for the members of the committee for Astro 2020 by the National Academies. And the current schedule calls for choosing first survey chair by December. This will be followed by a selection of rest committee and sub-panel members, which will support the overall effort.