Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the leadership of concurrent space missions at NASA will require significant effort throughout the car

Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the leadership of concurrent space missions at NASA will require significant effort throughout the car

Press release from: National Academy of Sciences
Posted: Wednesday May 18th 2022

NASA should continue to strengthen its efforts to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the direction of competing space science missions, says a new report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report outlines short- and long-term actions NASA should take to achieve its stated diversity and inclusion goals, such as expanding mentorship and mission-related training opportunities; improve data collection, monitoring and reporting; and investing in STEM, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSI).

NASA identifies critical science needs for a mission by issuing a public announcement of opportunity. Members of the scientific community can apply for these selected opportunities on a competitive basis, with teams led by a Principal Investigator (PI). The Mission PI role requires a wide range of experience in the field of scientific research, including knowledge of mission design and operations and leadership and team management skills.

“By strengthening and increasing its DEIA policy, oversight, and programmatic efforts now, NASA can take advantage of the great excitement of space exploration to pave the way for diversifying and strengthening America’s workforce in space science,” said Wanda Ward, Executive Associate Chancellor. for public engagement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “This will require multi-generational engagement, and our report recommends strong immediate and long-term actions to accelerate the pace of change in achieving a strong and competitive mission workforce.”

The report recognizes the value of NASA’s recent work in advancing DEIA, including the release of an equity action plan, a focus on how diverse and inclusive teams help maximize scientific yields and taking steps to demand and evaluate DEIA plans as part of its announcements of opportunity. .

Despite this progress, between 2010 and 2019, only 28% of missions selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) had female PIs. Notably, two of the four SMD divisions that fund concurrent missions – the Astrophysics and Earth Sciences divisions – did not fund any female-led mission proposals during this period. No comparable data on race or ethnicity was available to the committee.

According to the report, inadequate data collection and reporting are key obstacles to NASA’s understanding of the effectiveness of its own DEIA efforts to date and the demographics of the proposal’s leadership group. These are necessary steps to measure progress and to identify and remove obstacles in the mission proposal process. The report recommends developing a systematic approach to routinely monitor and track the demographics of people participating in NASA-funded research, both for missions and research and analysis grants, with the publication of the resulting data. In addition, SMD should provide funding to professional organizations to regularly conduct workforce surveys in management research areas to inform NASA of workforce demographics and barriers. and opportunities for advancement along career paths.

The report also recommends that NASA create a permanent NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee specifically focused on DEIA issues. This committee should have a broad charter and world-class membership to advise senior NASA leaders, and its chair should sit on the NAC.

Invest in career paths, mentoring and training opportunities

NASA needs long-term, sustained investments in effective activities that inspire, educate, train, and mentor women scientists and scientists of color to engage in NASA mission-related work and leadership, indicates the report.

“Preparation to lead a competitive mission begins early in a career, and pinch points in the space science career path occur as early as high school and early college levels,” said committee co-chair Frances Bagenal. and Deputy Director of Planetary Sciences at the University. of Colorado, Boulder. “Therefore, it is essential to examine the full path to careers in earth and space science and identify opportunities to help diverse groups of young scientists receive the training and experience they need. need to join the group of management teams of potential proposals.”

The report recommends that SMD provide consistent and adequate funding for post-secondary education through career-level STEM initiatives explicitly centered on DEIA, address recruitment and retention challenges, and expand opportunities for groups under -represented to become more involved in the direction of the mission. HBCUs, MSIs, and non-doctoral institutions receive less federal funding than many other universities, reflecting longstanding disparities in research capacity and infrastructure. Because female, black, and Latinx physics teachers are more likely to be employed at these less-resourced institutions, resource-intensive processes such as developing, preparing, and submitting research proposals mission likely disadvantage potential PCs from underrepresented populations.

Future programs and investments should correct historic inequities in NASA-supported research and training at HBCUs, MSIs, and Hispanic-serving institutions, the report said. Specifically, NASA should reinvest in talent development programs specifically related to its missions, further leverage ongoing programmatic efforts to advance broad access to all of its missions, and provide funding to support work and activities related to the mission in order to improve research capacity. Additionally, NASA should use systematic processes to document the measurable impacts of DEIA investments.

Increase opportunities and remove barriers in the mission proposal process

The report finds that the team building and concept development phases of the mission proposal process often begin one or more years before NASA releases an opportunity announcement, and are resource-intensive, but access to the necessary resources is not uniformly available in all proposing institutions. Moreover, these phases constitute in part an informal and opaque “competition before the competition” in which decision makers at the institutional level effectively control investments and opportunities to become IPs, thus directly shaping the diversity of the pool of IP candidates.

NASA should make the pre-proposal and proposal processes more transparent and accessible, use its resources to extend support to various external potential IPs, and encourage institutions supporting proposals to do the same. SMD should also require submissions to include DEIA plans, incorporate DEIA considerations into the assignment proposal review as explicit evaluation criteria, and engage with subject matter experts to implement these new policies. and monitor adherence to DEIA plans throughout the mission lifecycle.

In the longer term, NASA Headquarters should develop a comprehensive agency-wide evaluation of its proposal review processes, to track and reduce the impact of any potential bias at this stage of the process. . While most of the report’s recommendations are aimed at the four SMD divisions that manage completed missions, the report notes that if the suggested actions were taken across the agency, a more diverse workforce would boost U.S. efforts in the field. space exploration.

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Competing Space Mission Leadership – was sponsored by NASA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, not-for-profit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to the science, technology and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Josh Blatt, Media Associate
Bureau of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; E-mail [email protected]

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