太阳科学家正争先恐后地在NASA的新计划“和一颗恒星一起生活”（Living With a Star）上盖章，这一耗资数十亿美元用来研究太阳的计划在国会却遇到了障碍。
坡兰和其他的研究人员提议的是一个环绕地球和太阳的人造卫星网络，它能够监视太阳的可变性、太阳风、以及太阳对地球磁场和电离层的影响。第一期任务，带有四台主要仪器用来研究太阳动力学，将在2006年发射。过两年，在发射完近距离环绕太阳以研究其周期的空间探测器之后，NASA开始发射几个探测器来侦测太阳是怎样影响地球磁场和大气的。国家科学基金会的项目主管李查德·贝肯（Richard Behnke）说：“这会给科学家提供极好的数据和机会来研究宇宙空间中的‘天气情况’。”按照戈达德计划主管吉尔伯特·克伦（Gilberto Colon）的说法，这一计划将在未来5年内耗资5亿美元，整个计划将耗资10至5亿美元。
然而当欧洲1995发射的太阳及日球层天文台（Solar and Heliospheric Observatory ，SOHO）开始发送回出色的图像时，事情彻底改变了。研究人员希望利用这些照片所获的赞赏，把对太阳活动峰年的研究列入2002年的预恪５牵琋ASA把这一点做得更好。去年8月，NASA日-地计划的主管乔治·委斯伯（George Withbroe）进行了一次演示，这次演示非常得成功使古德林决定把“和一颗恒星一起生活”计划列入今年的预算要求，而且白宫也对此表示满意。
在1月被通知了有关新计划的情况之后，马里兰的政客都很热情。得到白宫的默许之后，在2月7日克林顿总统公布预算案前，民主党参议员芭芭拉·密库斯基（Barbara Mikulski）和保尔·萨巴斯（Paul Sarbanes）宣布了这一结果（计划列入了预算）。密库斯基说：“这意味着就业机会。”9天后，戈达德的主管公布了一条申明，把管理这一计划的唯一供货合同给予马里兰州的约翰霍普金斯应用物理实验室（the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory ，APL）。按照申明，合同为期12年价值6亿美元。
NASA日-地计划顾问小组组长、加州航空航天公司的物理学家爱德沃·克里斯丁森（Andrew Christensen）说：“这太糟了。”他说，这个决定“不幸的使计划被政治化了”。如果APL获得对计划的控制权，美国天文学会太阳物理部的主管、海军研究实验室的研究员朱蒂斯·卡潘（Judith Karpen）警告说：“任何计划成功的可能性将会受到怀疑。”在3月给戈达德代理主管的信中，她提到戈达德在策划和管理先前的日-地计划时的成功，包括SOHO，但同时她也对围绕在对APL的选择上存在的“前所未有的保密程度”表示批评。
相反，NASA的官员说，决定把合同给予有着长期管理空间计划历史的APL，是以此来确保马里兰实验室在未来十年内保持它的空间探测能力。他们补充说，其它的组织，例如加州帕萨提那的喷气推进实验室（the Jet Propulsion Laboratory），已收到了类似的合同。
WITH A STAR:Controversy Flares Up Over NASA Solar Project
Solar scientists are scrambling to put their stamp on NASA's new Living With a Star initiative, a billion-dollar program to study the sun that faces obstacles in Congress
Ancient astronomers thought the sun was the most important object in the heavens. But in recent times, solar astronomy has been left in the shade by dramatic images of celestial wonders ranging from colorful nebulae to channels cut by springlike seeps on Mars. NASA, the primary federal source of funding for studies of the sun and its impact on the solar system, devotes only about 10% of its annual $2 billion space science budget to such research.
This year, however, was supposed to be solar physicists' moment in the sun. In February, the president requested a $20 million downpayment on a 12-year, $1-billion-plus effort, called Living With a Star, to launch a flotilla of satellites to study the sun and the streams of particles it hurls into space. The data are expected to give researchers critical insight into the sun's inner workings as well as a window on space weather, which has a profound effect on Earth's climate as well as terrestrial communications. The program seemed to have everything going for it, including the backing of space scientists, NASA chief Dan Goldin and the White House, and influential senators.
But instead of ushering in a new dawn for solar science, the initiative has become mired in controversy that includes a bureaucratic tug-of-war, a debate over research goals, and questions about the propriety of a lucrative contract to manage it. The saga shows how, in the trenches of Washington politics, what seem like assets can quickly turn into liabilities, and how researchers must compete with other interests for organizing and running a big science program. NASA officials are convinced that the project will survive, but the rough-and-tumble politics have upset and perplexed the effort's scientific supporters, a community generally na?ve in the ways of Washington. "I thought I was buying a ticket to the ballet, but I ended up at a wrestling match," says Arthur Poland, the lead scientist for sun-Earth programs at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Focus: Solar surface, wind, and seismology
Cost: $600 million
Launch Date: 2008-09
What Poland and other researchers have proposed is a network of satellites ringing the sun and Earth that would monitor solar variability, solar wind, and the interactions of the sun with Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere (see gallery of images). The first mission, a spacecraft with four main instruments to study solar dynamics, would be launched late in 2006. Two years later, NASA would begin launching several satellites to examine how the sun affects Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, followed by a series of spacecraft that would closely circle the sun and study the solar cycle. "This will provide terrific data and great opportunities for scientists to understand space weather," says Richard Behnke, a program manager at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The price tag is estimated at $500 million over the next 5 years and between $1 billion and $1.5 billion over its lifetime, according to Gilberto Colon, the Goddard program manager.
The idea for such a network goes back to the mid-1980s. But other missions with wider popular appeal, like the Hubble Space Telescope or Mars Pathfinder, repeatedly pushed it down the priority list. "We are a field accused of studying wiggles on a graph," says Dan Baker, a space physicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "To convey our work in a visual way was difficult." Graduate students were drawn to more vibrant fields, leaving in place gaps created by a spate of retirements. In addition, the field's interdisciplinary nature hindered an effective grassroots lobbying campaign. As a result, as other areas of space exploration blossomed, Baker laments, "we were going out of business."
The turnaround came after Europe's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), launched in 1995, began returning stunning pictures taken by a Goddard telescope. Other small spacecraft have since filed other images. Researchers hoped to parlay the popularity of those pictures and interest in the current peak in solar activity into a 2002 budget initiative. But NASA did them one better. A presentation last August by George Withbroe, who manages NASA's sun-Earth programs, was so successful that Goldin decided to jam Living With a Star into this year's request, and the White House agreed.
Solar Dynamics Laboratory
Focus: Interior, dynamics of solar atmosphere
Cost: $300 million
Launch Date: 2006
Maryland politicians, apprised in January of the new initiative, were enthusiastic. With a nod from the White House, Democratic Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes announced the effort just before President Bill Clinton released his budget request on 7 February. "This means jobs today and jobs tomorrow," declared Mikulski. Nine days later, Goddard managers published a notice of their intent to award a sole-source contract to manage the project to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. The contract, according to the notice, would run for 12 years and be worth $600 million.
The announcement upset much of the solar science community. Goddard scientists, caught by surprise, wondered if the arrangement signaled a diminished role for their center. Industry officials complained that they were being blocked from competing for the contract. Republican House members bridled at a major government program moving forward without competition. The notice even rattled the White House, which sought an explanation.
Radiation Belt Mappers
Focus: Origin and dynamics of radiation belts
Cost: $150 million
Spacecraft: Two to six
Launch Date: 2008
"It was terrible," says Andrew Christensen, chair of NASA's sun-Earth advisory panel and a space physicist at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, California. The decision, he says, "unfortunately has politicized the program." Judith Karpen, chair of the American Astronomical Society's solar physics division and a Naval Research Laboratory researcher, warned that "the likelihood for success for any mission will be greatly compromised" if APL is given control over the initiative. In a 3 March letter to William Townsend, Goddard deputy director, she also noted Goddard's success in planning and managing previous sun-Earth missions, including SOHO, and criticized "the unprecedented degree of secrecy" surrounding the choice of APL.
Researchers, industry lobbyists, and congressional staffers see the arrangement as a bid by Goldin to curry favor with an influential legislator--Mikulski is the ranking Democrat on NASA's spending panel--by propping up a key research facility in her state. APL, with 3000 employees, has seen its mainstay military contracts dwindle in recent years. As evidence, an industry source cites a meeting this spring with Mikulski in which the senator told corporate leaders to accept the fact that APL had won. "We were told not to disrupt the program," adds one industry official. But Mikulski aides dismiss such talk. "There was no deal," says a spokesperson. "She has nothing to do with assigning contracts."
The arguments over the contract quickly caught the attention of House Republicans. After getting wind of industry and research community concerns, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who chairs the House Science Committee, asked NASA's Inspector General (IG) in April to look into the matter. In June, at Sensenbrenner's urging, the House spending panel with oversight of NASA's budget denied funding in part because of its concerns surrounding the contract. Earlier this month, NASA's IG issued a report finding "insufficient justification for NASA's decision to award this contract on a sole-source basis to APL." Last week, Sensenbrenner wrote a letter to Goldin asking him to "remove the cloud of uncertainty" hovering over the program by holding a competition.
But, true to the smoke-and-mirrors nature of Washington politics, some congressional sources say the House criticism is not what it seems. Instead, they see the attacks as part of an effort to win concessions from Mikulski and her Senate colleagues on other programs when the two bodies meet this fall to hammer out NASA's 2001 budget.
For their part, NASA and APL managers say that the criticism is misguided. "The IG's findings are a huge misunderstanding" riddled with "factual errors," says Tom Krimigis, a magnetosphere physicist and chief of APL's space department. A NASA response to the study labels it "inaccurate." NASA managers say they haven't ceded control over the project to APL, and that headquarters will decide where individual spacecraft will be built. "A lot of people assume this [means the initiative] is going lock, stock, and barrel to APL," says one agency official. "That's not the case."
Instead, agency officials say the decision to award a management contract to APL, which has a long history of managing space projects, is intended to ensure that the Maryland lab retains its space capabilities over the next decade. Other organizations, such as APL's archrival, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have received similar contracts, they add.
Another controversy over the program also stems from what seems at first glance like an asset. When NASA officials briefed staffers on Sensenbrenner's panel in February, they emphasized the potential applications that could flow from the program, including the ability to issue timely warnings of pending communications outages due to solar storms. That strategy appears to have backfired, however. Republican staffers "came unglued" by all the talk about benefits, according to one participant. If the effort was about applications rather than basic research, the staffers argued, then the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should help pay for it.
Focus: Effects on Earth's atmosphere
Cost: $150 million
Spacecraft: Two to six
Launch Date: 2009
NASA officials, wary of interagency programs after a long and bitter battle over control of the remote-sensing Landsat satellites (Science, 30 June, p. 2309), were horrified by the suggestion. Researchers were equally dismayed, flashing back to a protracted debate in the mid-1990s over the relative merits of basic and applied research. Living With a Star, they say, is an effort to understand the complex interactions of the sun and Earth and is firmly rooted in basic research. "There is elegant science to be done," says Karpen. But the applied side should not be ignored, she adds, contrasting it with other fields of astronomy that "have nothing to do with whether your cell phone works." NASA and outside researchers are trying to repair the damage, but the House spending bill takes the program to task for its emphasis on applications.
Yet another challenge is the short time available to flesh out the program's details and win the research community's full backing. The accelerated timetable has left many researchers feeling left out of the process. "Many people are miffed," says one. The current Goddard plan has not been well received by many outside scientists, who worry that the myriad spacecraft and instruments don't add up to a coherent package. "The community is delighted with the idea of Living With a Star, but there is room for reexamination," says NASA adviser Christensen. "There is a feeling we need to take a more systematic look."
NASA's Withbroe acknowledges that tension. "People are not terribly happy out there," he says. To address that concern and to avoid the kinds of mistakes that have hampered NASA's Mars program, the agency is creating an independent advisory panel to help develop a clearer and more acceptable plan. "We have the building blocks, and now we want to have a set of architects make sure they fit together," says Withbroe.
With the program ensnarled in controversy, outside researchers face the task of mobilizing a field that has never before been asked to go to bat for a program of this magnitude. "I don't think this community is very effective," says Louis Lanzerotti, a space physicist with Lucent Technologies in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. "And it's a damn pity." Colorado's Baker expects the controversy to be a learning experience for most researchers. "Only a few people in the community have been [politically] active," he says. "For the most part, people have been a little too content to let things play out."
Observers predict that Mikulski will triumph this fall in winning funding for the program and for APL. If that happens, the next step will be to maximize the project's scientific value without alienating the politicians who foot the bill. "We really don't like this [APL] deal--we think it stinks--but we don't want it to sink Living With a Star," says one solar physicist. Adds Christensen: "We want to get the program approved, so we don't want to torpedo it by being too negative."
Proponents are rooting for the solar community to demonstrate that it can play in the scientific big leagues. "It's a great program, and it's a real shame it started off on the wrong foot," says NSF's Behnke. "Let's hope it recovers."
Copied From July 2000,Science