Report: Earth plan has holes

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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NASA must work on selling its plan for studying the planet, a National Academies committee report said.

The draft of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise Strategic Plan "does not clearly and compellingly articulate the Earth Science Enterprise's rationale, scope, relationships and programmatic approaches," according to a report released today by a National Academies committee.

Earth Science Enterprise is a proposal to study the Earth's natural processes by using satellites and advanced data systems. NASA's major aim is to predict impending natural disasters and changes in climate and weather. The strategic plan is a working document that the agency plans to revise by September, and NASA requested the committee's review.

The agency "makes no attempt to persuade the reader" that NASA will achieve the objectives of the six areas contained in the plan, the report said.

Calling the current plan "deficient in many respects" and "difficult to understand", the committee identified several weaknesses of the document, including the lack of a logical structure. The plan needs a "clear and ambitious guiding vision of the desired outcome," the committee said in its report.

It was noted that the plan should be viewed as an early draft and that substantial revisions will produce a more effective document. Officials at NASA's public affairs office did not return phone messages.

The report expressed concern that the science enterprise plan doesn't mesh with NASA's Strategic Plan. The committee recommended that the updated Earth Science Enterprise version should list specific agency goals and programs that would benefit from the study.

The committee also noted the absence of references to other necessary documents and a lack of timeframe information and evaluation criteria, which suggests that the plan is incomplete.

NASA's plan only lists milestones for 2010 and 2025. Although suggesting a clearer timetable for accomplishing strategic goals, the report stressed a need for prioritizing elements.

The committee also wants NASA to carefully evaluate the practicality of the plan's proposals. Specifically, Academies members doubted the projection that accurate predictions of natural hazards, such as severe storms or hurricanes, will be possible within the next decade.

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