Arecibo Science Advocacy Partnership: May 2009 Newsletter to Members

Dear ASAP Member,
    We write again to help keep you informed about the many developments that affect
the future of the Arecibo Observatory.  Your concern and membership support provide
the foundation for ASAP's work, and indeed March and April have been busy months for
the ASAP Board.  Overall, Board members are staying in close touch with issues that
affect the immediate health of the Observatory as well as the pivotal longer term actions
that can assure its future.

    To this end, ASAP Board member Dan Stinebring made a trip to DC in mid-March
and met with AST Director Craig Foltz, NAIC Program Manager Dana Lehr as well as
Atmospheric Sciences Division Director Bob Robinson.  He was warmly received and
had ample opportunity both to inquire about AST perceptions and policies and to make
a strong case for the importance and uniqueness of AO's science.

    Although application of worst-case Senior Review (SR) recommendations by the
NSF Astronomy Division (AST) continues to bedevil AO funding, changes in policy may
be possible in the nearer future as the AST conducts its management recompetition
of the AO and on the longer term in the context of the National Academy of Sciences
Decadal Survey ASTR2010.  No full listing of the science White Papers submitted last
December to the latter is available, but it would seem that AO's unique capabilities were
well recognized in a number of these documents.

    As noted in the last Newsletter, NSF AST has started the management recompetition
for AO with a "Dear Colleague" letter.  and the Request for Proposals (RFP) was to be
available early April.  However, sources who have spoken recently with Board members
reiterate that the delays continue and indicate that any actual RFP may still be weeks or
even several months away.

    Three organizations are now expected to submit proposals for the management of the
Observatory (though two might join forces).  In an effort to assure that these management
proposals fully exploit AO's three main research areas (radio astronomy, atmospheric
science and radar astronomy), strongly pursue its educational mission, and make full use
of AO's staff expertise, the ASAP Board has adopted a Statement of Principles (SoP) for
the recompetition and distributed it to the three organizations that are considering submitting
proposals as well as the NSF.  In her reply to the Board, NAIC Project Manager Dana Lehr
indicated that the AST "welcomed ASAP's role in assisting potential managing organizations"
and "will consider the application of [ASAP's] principles in [its] own planning for NAIC".

    More recently, the Board has written to the AST emphasizing that current conditions
are now fundamentally different than anything the SR considered.  Therefore, the Board
requested that AST's RFP initiate a new chapter in its relationship with the AO and that
it support this unique and "essentially new" observatory in a manner befitting its position
as one of the "jewels in the NSF's crown". 

    In other news, the Congressional Research Service has just published a report on the
Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory (sic) that outlines the issues and controversies following
from the SR.  It also reviews the bills considered by the 110th Congress as background
for possible actions taken by the sitting 111th Congress.  Caltech Prof. Shri Kulkarni has
given the 2009 Gordon Lecture at AO entitled "The Arecibo Telescope: A Discovery Engine?
A Survey Machine? An Educational Resource? or All?"  Finally, President Obama has just
addressed the National Academy of Sciences emphasizing the importance of fundamental
research and promising "the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in
American history".
    ASAP membership has grown significantly since our last newsletter, but we need about
40 new members to achieve our goal of doubling ASAP membership by the time the AST
RFP is released.  ASAP members are what gives ASAP its strength.  Please then assist us
in building the ASAP membership by approaching your own colleagues—especially those
outside the immediate community of AO users—using the brochure as needed.  If even most
current members brought in a single new member, ASAP would more than meet this crucial
goal easily.

     Finally, the Board wants to take this opportunity to encourage members to email with
suggestions, help build the membership or assist with ASAP's work in future.  For instance,
you may be an expert on aspects of AO's scientific excellence and uniqueness that are not
now well described on the ASAP website;  if so, please consider writing up a short piece (a
"one-pager") for this purpose.

    Sincere thanks from the ASAP Board for your absolutely essential support at members.

        With best wishes to you and for a vital Arecibo future,

                    The ASAP Board