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Scientists: NASA Doesn't Shine When It Comes to Solar Research

The U.S. space agency came under fire from the National Research Council 2 years ago for failing to fulfill its promises to monitor Earth aggressively using a series of satellites. Now NRC is taking NASA to task for neglecting its ambitious plans to understand the sun and its impact on Earth—even giving the agency grades as low as a "D" and an "F" for some aspects of solar research. An uncharacteristically harsh report released yesterday says that "mission cost growth, reordering of ... priorities, and unrealized budget assumptions have delayed or deferred nearly all of the NASA spacecraft missions" recommended by an NRC panel in 2003. The science strategy "is in jeopardy," the panel says.

To be fair, NRC says that some of the trouble, such as budget constraints, is beyond NASA's control. But the agency also ignored NRC advice on promoting connections between solar and space physics and other disciplines—that is the "F"—and for slashing plans for a geospace network designed to explore how Earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere play a role in space weather—that's the "D". In most other areas, the NRC panel gave NASA an average score for following-through with the research community's recommendations from 6 years ago. The panel was chaired by Stephen Fuselier of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center and Roderick Heelis, a space physicist at the University of Texas, Dallas.

No comment yet from the space agency.