In short, there’s not enough money allocated to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to do everything the US astronomical community wants to do so some things need to go. In order to figure out what to cut, the NSF commissioned a “Portfolio Review” committee to take a good hard look. Yesterday, the result of that review, with specific recommendations on what to keep and what to cut, was made public: Portfolio Review (PDF). Everyone interested in being involved in astronomy should at least take a skim of the report to see what future facilities and grant programs will likely look like. For young’ns, this report is high-level insider baseball and is very jargon heavy, but it’s worth your effort to try and parse it, especially if you are based in the US. The e-Astronomer has a nice intro post: NSF starts slicing. And Dynamics of Cats has an excellent summary: NSF AST: the bell tolls.
The first piece of info you need to be able to get anywhere with the report is to know that the document that describes “everything the US astronomical community wants to do” is the 2010 Decadal Survey which was released about a year ago. The name of that report is New Worlds, New Horizons and is referred to as NWNH throughout the Portfolio Review report. In conversation, most people I know call this document the “Decadal Survey” and it was also commonly referred to as “Astro2010” for short. For more info and commentary on NWNH, see this Decadal link roundup from almost exactly a year ago (scroll down, it’s at the bottom) and all of AstroBetter’s Astro2010 coverage.
Let’s discuss the Portfolio Review report, but constructively, and with non-experts and junior community members in mind. Share with us the back stories or pre-requisites that you think are necessary in order to be able to understand the full meaning and ramifications of the recommendations. If there are programs, telescopes, acronyms, etc. that you don’t quite get, please don’t hesitate to bring it up in the comments. (There is a handy acronym table at the end of the report which I think should be turned into a Wiki page!) In addition to the recommendation that you are most disappointed with, what are you “okay” with?