2020 Decadal Survey: What Will the Next Decade Hold For Astronomy?

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NASA, National Research Council Approve “Statement of Task” for the Next Decadal Survey

One of the most important parts of NASA’s commitment to its science mission directorate is the decadal survey. According to the agency website, “NASA relies on the science community to identify and prioritize leading-edge scientific questions and the observations required to answer them… The NRC [National Research Council] conducts studies that provide a science community consensus on key questions posed by NASA and other U.S. government agencies.” This Monday, March 16th, agency officials held a virtual town hall in which they outlined the “statement of task” for this year’s decadal survey.

According to Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, this decadal will look very similar to the last one in most aspects. Specifically, it provides a wide perspective of astronomy as a whole and identifies the most important questions at the forefront of the field. The report, like past ones, will also rank both large and medium missions in order of importance. As such, NASA looks to the decadal survey to decide mission priorities. 

The Difference

Of the key differences between this year’s decadal and previous years, two stand out. The first is an increased focus on astrobiology. The second is additional emphasis on planetary defense. Neither field of study is part of a traditional decadal survey. 

According to Glaze, “There is an increased emphasis on the astrobiology part of our program…” She further explained that astrobiology is becoming increasingly important to NASA. Glaze spoke to planetary defense as well. “We’re also placing explicit emphasis on our planetary defense program, which over the last few years has grown,” she said. 

Astrobiology examines life in space. That’s a broad topic, though. It encompasses everything from studying exoplanets to examining proteins found in meteorites to how humans and other organisms react to life in space. Planetary defense, on the other hand, might not be what you think. It has nothing to do with weaponizing space. Rather, it focuses on finding potentially hazardous objects in space and learning how to mitigate their effect on us. 

Here’s a Video of the Town Hall:

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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