Recognizing that science and exploration go hand in hand, NASA is transitioning its successful NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) to broaden its research base to other science and exploration destinations. SSERVI will continue to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, and will add investigations related to Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies.
- Conduct basic and applied research fundamental to lunar and planetary sciences while advancing human exploration of the solar system,
- Conduct and catalyze collaborative research in lunar and planetary science, enabling cross-disciplinary partnerships throughout the science and exploration communities,
- Provide scientific, technical, and mission-relevant analyses for appropriate NASA programs, planning, and space missions as requested by NASA,
- Explore innovative ways of using information technology for scientific collaboration and information dissemination across geographic and contextual boundaries to stimulate inter- and cross-discipline research,
- Train the next generation of scientific explorers through research opportunities, and encourage global education and public outreach (EPO) through formal education, informal programs, and participatory public events.
Organization of the SSERVI
SSERVI, supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, is composed of an administrative office located at NASA Ames Research Center that oversees the operation of several research teams distributed across the United States and a growing number of international partners.
The administrative staff at the SSERVI central office forms the organizational and collaborative hub for the domestic and international teams. The SSERVI teams are supported through multiple year cooperative agreements with NASA.
SSERVI recognizes the importance of stimulating science throughout the entire community, leveraging additional research by connecting others to the Institutes’ currently funded teams. Most notably, SSERVI organizes and sponsors the annual Science Forum, held at Moffett Field, California, which brings together several hundred researchers to discuss topics ranging from modeling to mission science. The Director’s Seminar Series brings the community together via monthly videoconferences that are archived for future reference. The Focus Groups mobilize expertise across the community on relevant topics developed at a grass roots level. The Institute’s Workshops Without Walls, held in virtual space, provides travel-free conferences with recognized leaders on topics of current interest.
The NASA Lunar Science Institute, predecessor to the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), developed a wide, diverse program for professional development that will grow under the SSERVI banner: support of the Next Gen Lunar Scientists and Engineers; founding of the LunGradCon, a dedicated science conference for graduate students; support of multiple NASA Postdoctoral Fellowships; coordination of a student exchange and training program; and student award competitions at the Science Forum.
The executive summaries from each NLSI team’s annual report describe their contributions to lunar science research resulting from participation in the NLSI. Publications of the NLSI can be found in the Library or through the individual team websites. Over 180 papers were published in peer-reviewed journals in the first three years of operation, with many papers co-authored across teams. This indicates the effectiveness of a virtual institute in bringing together well-formed teams that find important overlaps at the intersections of their research interests. NASA’s first virtual institute, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, has a very similar structure to the NLSI and continues to provide outstanding scientific results as it probes the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The National Research Council has strongly endorsed the virtual institute model as an effective and unique business model for forging strong scientific collaborations.
A special focus on the importance of education and public outreach (EPO) can be found in the well-developed activities of each team, including several over-arching programs led by the central office.