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Committee on Large Strategic NASA Science Missions: Science Value and Role in a Balanced Portfolio

Statement of Task

This study will examine the role of large, strategic missions within a balanced program across NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) space and Earth sciences programs. The study will consider the role and scientific productivity of such missions in advancing science, technology and the long-term health of the field, and provide guidance that NASA can use to help set the priority of larger missions within a properly balanced program containing a range of mission classes.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will appoint an ad-hoc committee that will:


1. Provide recommendations to help guide future prioritization by NASA of large strategic space and Earth science missions within a balanced program containing a range of mission classes. That is, what are general principles that SMD could use (e.g., a figure of merit approach) to trade off within a limited budget between development and operation of large, strategic missions and the cadence and/or cost caps of medium size and small PI-led mission lines?

The committee will not offer prioritized recommendations on any specific current or future missions, which is a function of each science theme's decadal survey process.


2. In this framework, assess the impact of current and recent SMD missions with a range of life cycle costs. A representative subset of missions within each of SMD's four science theme areas may be selected for analysis. The committee's analysis of each representative mission will include a discussion of the relation between mission scientific impact and mission life cycle cost (or cost to date) in order to understand the return on expenditures for various mission classes. In describing the impact of the chosen missions the committee should consider dimensions such as:

  • Scientific productivity;
  • Impact on the current and future health of the relevant scientific community; and
  • Contribution to development and demonstration of technology applicable to future missions.

 More Information  on this project may be found on current projects website.


October 5-6, 2016, Washington, DC
View Agenda I View Presentations


December 7-9, 2016, Irvine, CA
View Agenda IView Presentations

February 15-17, 2017, Washington, DC
View Agenda IView Presentations


Committee Members

View Committee Bios

Ralph L. McNutt, Jr. (Co-Chair)
Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory

Kathryn C. Thornton (Co-Chair)
University of Virginia

David Bearden
The Aerospace Corporation

Joel N. Bregman
University of Michigan

Anny Cazenave
International Space Sciences Institute

Anne Douglass
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Victoria E. Hamilton
Southwest Research Institute

Marc L. Imhoff
University of Maryland

Charles D. Norton
JPL, California Institute of Technology

Carol S. Paty
Georgia Institute of Technology

Marc D. Rayman
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

William S. Smith
ScienceWorks International

Edward L. Wright
University of California, Los Angeles

Gary Zank

University of Alabama in Huntsville


Dwayne Day

Senior Program Officer

Mia Brown
Research Associate

Anesia Wilks
Senior Program Assistant


Below is an archive list of names and a link to the slides presented at the committee meeting during open session. We have only included the slides for which the presenter has given consent to post. 


October 5-6, 2016

Thomas Zubuchen
Jim Green
Paul Hertz
Michael Freilich
Peg Luce
Jeff Bingham - No Slides
David Goldston - No Slides
Tom Hammond - No Slides
Pamela Whitney - No Slides
John Grunsfeld -


December 7-9, 2016

Gregg Vane

Steve Squyres-No Slides

Linda Spilker

Bob Pappalardo

Jackie Hewitt

Richard Zurek-Permission pending

Alan Dressler

Ghasem Asrar

Roger Blandford-No Slides

Robert E. Bitten 1

 Robert E. Bitten 2

February 15-17, 2017
Thomas Zurbuchen-No Slides
Paul Hertz-No Slides
Jim Green-No Slides
Michael Freilich-No Slides
Peg Luce-No Slides
Dan Baker-Permission Pending
Steven Clarke-No Slides
Mark Sykes-Permission Pending
Alain Ratier-No Slides


* No slides indicate that the presenter did not utilize slides during their presentation.
* Permission pending indicates that the presenter has not given us consent to publish the slides they presented at the meeting.
*Written materials submitted to a study committee by external sources are listed in the project's public access file and can be made available to the public upon request via the Academies Public Access Records Office.