Dear ASAP Member,
Again we are writing to help keep you informed about important developments affecting the status and future of the Arecibo Observatory. Your membership support provides the foundation for the ASAP's work.
The Observatory is now entering what is undoubtedly the most perilous and uncertain period in its long history. We see some very positive and promising develop≠ments, however none of the current threats to its future have been fully weathered or withdrawn.
All of us were very sorry to learn about the death of William E. (Bill) Gordon, the designer and builder of the Arecibo telescope, of February 16th. Obituaries were printed by a number of national newspapers (e.g., see NYT, WP, LA Times).
Over the last few months, ASAP carried its advocacy for the Arecibo Observatory to the Mathematics & Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS) of the NSF—the level above the Astronomy (AST) Division. Late last year Dr. Ed Seidel was appointed Acting Assistant Director of MPS and, given his astronomical background, the Board thought it especially important to meet with him. This meeting took many weeks to schedule, but finally occurred in early January. Board members, Tim Hankins, John Meriwether and Dan Stinebring represented ASAP, and AST Acting Directory Craig Foltz and NAIC Program Director Dana Lehr were also in attendance. Major points from the meeting were:
--NSF assured us that they support AO's continued operation, but with a different operational model and at a reduced funding level, as prescribed by the Senior Review (SR).
--ASAP offered strong critiques of the SR, and these were not rebutted (maybe even concurred with). At high levels the SR is still regarded as a paragon of management practice. Whatever their own views the NSF people clearly feel stuck with the SR. Apparently, the National Science Board is “holding NSF's feet to the fire” to comply with SR recommendations. Nonetheless, we learned that Lehr had presented to the NSB in an effort to gain further support for AO.
--There was no explanation nor apology for the more than 15-month delay of the Program Solicitation for a new management contract. The ASAP Board continues to advocate to NSF the soonest possible release of this “RFP”.
--Ed Seidel is supportive of the science AO is doing; he said that gravitational physics is (obviously) “near and dear to my heart”. Lehr referred to AO as a “glorious instrument”; she also said that it was well recognized that AO is doing excellent science.
The AGS (formerly ATM) Division at NSF has committed to at least $1M/year increased funding for AO. In the past ATM has paid none of the infrastructure costs of running the AO. This will now change.
The National Research Council Report on Near Earth Objects (NEO) was released 23 January 2010. It is very favorable toward the AO. Here’s a quote from the news release:
“... the report recommends that immediate action be taken to ensure the continued operation of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. NASA and NSF should support a vigorous program of NEO observations at Arecibo, and NASA should also support such a program at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Although these facilities cannot discover NEOs, they play an important role in accurately determining the orbits and characterizing the properties of NEOs within radar range.”
James S. Ulvestad was appointed AST Director at NSF on February 1. We note that Jim Ulvestad is a radio astronomer. He has recently been the Site Director for NRAO's VLA and VLBA in Socorro. We view this as a positive development for the future of the AO. The ASAP Board is seeking a meeting with the new AST Director to explain ASAP and its objectives, and to offer our cooperation in ensuring AO's future scientific vitality.
Membership. During the ASAP Board meeting with the NSF in January, the NSF again indicated how impressed they were with the size of the membership of ASAP. The larger the ASAP membership, the louder our voice will be heard in Washington.
So, if you care about Arecibo, then please help find new ASAP members. Graduate student (or even undergraduates actively involved in AO work) members are welcome, and at this point financial support is less important than growing ASAP numbers. The Membership Brochure is available for download.
Please then help us build the ASAP membership!
Please send this letter to your friends and associates and tell them about the ASAP website: http://areciboscience.org/.
Please also write the Board with your suggestions and comments. The Board is very eager to hear your suggestions both on how best to protect AO as well as suggestions for the structure and goals for the new AO!
With sincere thanks and regards,
The ASAP Board