Subcommittee Examines Report on Solar Research Priorities

Nov 28, 2012
Subcommittee Examines Report on Solar Research Priorities

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to examine the recommendations in the National Research Council’s (NRC) decadal survey, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society.  The recommendations addressed both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) and National Science Foundation’s (NSF) solar and space physics programs and the application of this research to an operational space weather program.  These programs seek to improve our understanding of the Sun and its variations, the connection between the Sun and the Earth environment, and the impact of solar activity and space weather events on human activities.  Testifying before the Subcommittee were representatives from the NRC decadal survey committee, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The decadal survey provides independent, external input on the priorities and plans for NASA’s heliophysics program and NSF’s ground-based research activities in solar and space physics.  Specifically, NASA and NSF requested that the NRC provide recommendations on the state of solar and space physics science, the most compelling science challenges for the field, the highest-priority scientific activities for the 2013-2022 decade, and the preparation of an integrated strategy for implementing the identified scientific activities.

Rep. Donna Edwards, (D-MD) emphasized the importance of the research for addressing space weather threats to the nation’s critical infrastructure, including ground- and space-based technological systems.  “Because solar events …can have marked impacts on ground- and space-based technological systems and services, such as GPS-related services, communications, aviation, the electric power grid, and pipelines—the Nation’s basic research programs have a direct bearing on protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure.”  

Witnesses were questioned on whether improvements are needed in outreach to the public regarding the link between solar and space physics research and its applications for society, as well as on the state of our capability to accurately predict space weather and how the implementation of decadal survey recommendation can contribute to improving space weather prediction.   Rep. Edwards also highlighted the importance of sustaining the research during a period of ongoing budgetary stress.  “I would be remiss if I did not mention the budgetary challenges for this research, which has such significant implications for our society.  We need to protect these R&D investments.  Our assets, our quality of life, and our economic strength as a nation depend on this research,” said Rep. Edwards.