Realizing New Worlds, New Horizons and Visions & Voyages in an Era of Limited Resources

Summary of the Ground-based OIR System Roadmap Committee Response to the NSF Portfolio Review Committee Report and the NSF Response

(The full text of the statement is available at

The ground-based OIR System is a crucial element in the continued US scientific leadership in astronomy and the pursuit of decadal survey science (New Worlds, New Horizons [NWNH]; Visions and Voyages). The System Roadmap Committee is concerned, based on our 2011 survey of more than 1000 astronomers, that the wholesale implementation of the NSF/AST Portfolio Review Committee (PRC) recommendations would lead to major reductions in new instrumentation for and open access to critical elements of the OIR system. In the long term this would cripple US ground-based OIR astronomy, with profound adverse implications for achieving the science objectives of the decadal surveys. We call on NSF/AST to:

Maintain the Health of the Profession

The phenomenal track record of discovery in ground-based OIR astronomy is based on matching highly motivated people with creative ideas to resources (funding, vital OIR facilities, and instruments). To sustain this "OIR discovery model", it is essential for NSF to recognize not only the value of the grants program, but also the critical need for instrumentation development and open access to facilities in order to preserve the health of the profession.

Preserve Opportunity

Open-access time on 2-m to 6-m telescopes is decimated in the PRC recommendations, with the loss of 700+ nights per year (more than half of the open access nights), entirely from the Northern hemisphere. We call on NSF to work with the community and NOAO to develop a feasible transition plan for Kitt Peak in which the reduction in NSF funding occurs gradually enough to (1) enable the uninterrupted operation of tenant facilities and (2) allow NSF-funded facilities to transition smoothly to a new funding model in which a larger fraction of their costs are borne by non-NSF sources. As a highly ranked facility that is at risk for divesture, we urge NSF, NOAO, and the community to look for ways to preserve open access to the Mayall, fully or partially. BigBOSS on the Mayall is an example of an opportunity to share costs with other partners while carrying out highly compelling NWNH science.

Preserve and Coordinate Investment in Instrumentation

Because the renewal and development of OIR instrumentation is critical to achieving the highest priority objectives of the decadal surveys, it is imperative that the NSF maintain their investment in instrumentation for the OIR System. We further urge NSF to create a funding process that promotes a coherent strategy for instrumentation development across the OIR System.

Be Flexible

We urge NSF/AST not to prescribe how a reduced budget for NOAO should be managed, but instead to empower NOAO and the community to find creative ways to leverage NSF funding to maximize the scientific return from NSF investment in facilities. We further call on NSF to remove non-scientific restrictions that may prevent the preservation of open access facilities. For example, the NSF requirement that divested facilities would be divorced in the future from current parent observatory (NOAO and NRAO) portfolios is not required financially and is harmful scientifically.

Engage AURA

AURA must be authorized (by AST and the NSB) to respond flexibly to the PRC recommendations and maximize the scientific efficiency of NSF funds, while preserving options for more optimistic budget scenarios for as long as possible. This flexibility should include cross-facility (Gemini, NOAO, LSST) optimization of supporting infrastructure(s).

The System Roadmap Committee Members are:
• Tom Soifer, Co-chair (Caltech)
• Joan Najita, Co-Chair (NOAO)
• Kelle Cruz (Hunter College, City University of New York and American Museum of Natural History)
• Suzanne Hawley (University of Washington)
• Craig Hogan (Fermilab and the University of Chicago)
• Buell T. Jannuzi (University of Arizona)
• Lynne Jones (University of Washington)
• Elizabeth Lada (University of Florida)
• Nancy Levenson (Gemini Observatory)
• Michael Liu (University of Hawaii)
• Suvrath Mahadevan (Pennsylvania State University)
• Caty Pilachowski (Indiana University)
• Josh Simon (Carnegie Observatories)
• Nathan Smith (University of Arizona)
• Michael Strauss (Princeton University)
• Jeff Valenti (STScI)


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    Questions about the SRC statement and this petition are welcome at