Looking Back, Moving Forward
As I write, in early October, our Lucy mission is just days away from launch. The next in our line of Discovery missions, Lucy will journey to the Trojan asteroids that have been trapped in stable Lagrange Points, along Jupiter’s orbit, for billions of years. Starting in 2027, Lucy will fly by seven of these Trojan asteroids and, in doing so, will allow us to survey their diversity and gain new insights into this unique, never-before-explored, population of early solar system remnants.
Lucy is named for the fossilized skeleton of an early hominid found in Ethiopia in 1974. The name of that find was inspired by The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and by naming our mission for the skeleton, we come full circle and are taking Lucy back to the sky! Just as the Lucy skeleton provided fundamental insights into the evolution of our species, the Lucy mission is set to revolutionize our understanding of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system.
But while I anticipate the Lucy launch and am thinking about our origins, I can’t help but also contemplate the evolution of our planetary science community over the past year, and what the planetary science landscape will look like in the coming decades. The events of 2020 and 2021 have been a wakeup call to us as individuals, as scientists, and as members of a worldwide community. But as hard as these times have been, I am grateful that important issues — namely those relating to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) — have come to the fore, and that individuals and organizations alike are trying to foster positive and long-lasting change. Indeed, NASA has been increasing its commitment to IDEA and added inclusion to the Agency’s core values (safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence) last July.
As such, I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on some of the many IDEA-focused initiatives we are working on at NASA, the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), and the Planetary Science Division (PSD).
SMD IDEA Working Group
I am pleased to share that earlier this year we officially chartered an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Working Group within SMD. This Group (comprised of SMD staff and advisors) will seek to advocate for and promote inclusive values and efforts, and will develop viable, actionable solutions that are impactful, sustainable, and measurable for SMD to implement. Reporting to the SMD Associate Administrator (Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen), the IDEA Working Group is responsible for the development and implementation of an IDEA Strategic Implementation Plan, to focus current and future IDEA activities for a five-year period (and renewable five-year increments thereafter). The Working Group currently consists of several subgroups that are focused on various aspects of SMD activities, including recruitment and hiring; missions, programs, and projects; science engagement; leadership development; research and analysis; and inclusion and culture. I am so glad to see SMD developing IDEA initiatives in this strategic manner, and I am excited to see what this group achieves.
Proposed Changes to Announcements of Opportunity
As another example of NASA’s commitment to IDEA values, SMD is undertaking a comprehensive effort to ensure NASA programs are accessible to all Americans, especially underserved and underrepresented communities. To that end, a Request for Information (RFI) was released on September 22, 2021, for public comments on draft language that SMD plans to add to future Announcements of Opportunity [and to amend the open Stand-Alone Mission of Opportunity Notice (SALMON)]. The proposed amendments would require proposers to describe how the processes used to assemble the proposed team and to execute the proposed project would align with NASA’s core value of inclusion and NASA’s IDEA values. If you have not already, I urge you to read the RFI text carefully and submit comments before the November 3, 2021, deadline.
Dual-Anonymous Peer Review
As you are hopefully aware, we are now deep into the second ROSES cycle where we are implementing Dual-Anonymous Peer Review (DAPR) for several of our research programs. Under this system, neither are proposers told the identity of their reviewers nor are reviewers told the identity of the proposers until they have completed the evaluation of the scientific merit of the anonymized proposals. The results of SMD’s pilot implementation demonstrated improvements in both the overall quality of the review process as well as in the demographics of awardees. After the successful pilot year, during which PSD’s Habitable Worlds program was run under DAPR, we are using this process in ROSES-2021 for all our data analysis programs (Cassini, Discovery, Lunar, New Frontiers, and Mars Data Analysis Programs), as well as the cross-divisional Exoplanets Research Program. Please refer to our DAPR webpage to read more.
Lastly, I want to highlight two new mentorship programs we are supporting at the PSD and SMD level. Within PSD, we have recently started a pilot program, known as “Here to Observe” (H2O). The goal of this initiative is to spark and maintain an interest for underrepresented students considering STEM careers, and so far we have assembled three PSD mission/Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) pairs: Europa Clipper and the University of Puerto Rico; Dragonfly and Virginia State University; and Lucy and Howard University. We already have 30 undergraduate students from these universities signed up to participate and we are currently in the process of matching each of these students with mentors from the mission teams. The students will participate in the mission science team meetings as well as other planetary science community meetings. In addition, participants in the program will be offered supplemental activities such as seminars, social events (including an upcoming Lucy launch party), career panels, and more. I am keen to see the outcomes of this pilot, and if it proves successful, we will plan to scale the program up to include all PSD missions and other institutions.
In SMD we are also pleased to be partnering with several societies (e.g., AGU, GSA) to support the new Mentoring365 platform. With programs such as this we are investing in early-career researchers and students working within Earth and space science, which in turn helps us foster a robust, diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce that is equipped to address the challenges our environment and planet are facing and the science and exploration goals we have. This program is highly customizable and free to use. Please take a look at the website and sign up to be a mentor and/or mentee!
These are just a few of the activities we are undertaking to create a more diverse, inclusive, and fruitful planetary science community — one that is welcoming to all. I am incredibly proud to see how my colleagues within PSD, SMD, and the larger planetary science community have taken IDEA issues to heart, and I know that these efforts will allow us to achieve long-term changes. After all, our efforts to study the origins and workings of our solar system — and our place within it — will only truly be worthwhile if we continue to use the lessons we learn to strive for a better future.
— Lori S. Glaze, Director, NASA’s Planetary Science Division, October 2021