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In the Long Run: Managing the Challenges of Multi-Generational Space Science

Presentation #504.06 in the session “IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility”.

Published onOct 03, 2021
In the Long Run: Managing the Challenges of Multi-Generational Space Science

Since the dawn of the space age, the duration of spaceflight missions has increased from days to years to decades. Voyager has operated for 43 years to date; inclusive of cruise and its mission at Saturn, Cassini operated for 20 years. New Horizons cruised 9 years to reach Pluto and continued to the Kuiper Belt for the past 5 years.

Yet most space science missions—even those operating for decades—were not designed with longevity in mind. Many experiments survive as-needed or as-funded on relatively short review cycles and with little long-range planning in mind. Extant practices for operating over the long term are typically improvised and highly dependent on select individuals (i.e., PI’s) or institutions that are difficult to replicate. Little systematic attention has been given to the supporting infrastructures and human organizations needed to sustain space science over the long term, even as missions like the Interstellar Probe or Ice Giants exploration contemplate very long lifetimes.

To address this gap, we conducted semi-structured interviews with leading space scientists, science administrators, project managers, and historians of science on the challenges of very long duration science to generate insights and assist for long-term missions. This paper presents findings incorporating lessons from 1) past spaceflight missions, 2) big science experiments like particle accelerators or observatories that have operated over long durations [1,2], and 3) the emerging literature on the science of team science [3].

We focus on two key problems for long-duration science. First is the problem of multi-generational succession, as older, experienced team members are replaced by younger, novice members [4]. Second is the problem of inconsistency: a commitment from external funding agencies or the scientific community today is no guarantee of a commitment tomorrow [5]. Building upon an evolving body of practice, we document strategies for managing these concerns, considering science team organization, career trajectories, performance measures, funding systems, and external audience engagement. Common across these solutions is that long-duration science excels when mission planners consider experimental longevity from the outset rather than after the fact.

Refs. [1] Jackson, S.J. et al. (2011), Proc. CSCW ‘11 245-254. [2] Steinhardt, S.B. et al. (2015) Proc. CSCW ’15, 443-453 [3] Ribes, D. & Finholdt, Proc. GROUP ’07, 229-238 [4] Linde, C. Working the Past (OUP, 2009). [5] Reinecke, D. (2021) Soc. Stud. Sci. 2.

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