NASA's Prize Fellowships Shrink

The original blog post follows below, but make sure you read two important updates I've appended to the bottom.

Click to read Paul's letter in full (.pdf)

Click to read Paul's letter in full (.pdf)

While not widely advertised, this has been public information since the October 2016 meeting of the NASA Astrophysics Subcommittee. You can read the minutes of that meeting here (see pages 11-13). Today, however, it's "official".  

Today, Dr. Paul Hertz (Director of Astrophysics within NASA's Science Mission Directorate) sent this letter to department chairs across the globe.  

In short: 

  • The Hubble, Einstein, and Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships will merge. There will be a single application portal (administered via STScI), and a single review committee. The entire program will fall under the "NASA Hubble Fellowship" banner, though applicants whose science is applicable to NASA's Physics of the Cosmos and Exoplanet Exploration programs will still receive the Einstein and Sagan "branding", if you will. Salaries (about $70K USD) and annual Travel/Research allocation ($16K USD) will stay the same, and remain identical regardless of the Hubble/Einstein/Sagan label.
     
  • The number of fellowships awarded across all three programs will be significantly reduced. About 24 Fellows will be selected as part of this new unified program. For reference, in 2015, a total of 37 Fellowships were awarded (14 Einstein, 6 Sagan, and 17 Hubble). This is therefore a ~35% reduction. Oversubscription for the program will certainly grow. I am told, however, that the intent here was to restore balance to the pressure on R&A Grant programs relative to that on named fellowships. This is summarized by this slide from Kartik's presentation (see the update at the top of this post). 
     
  • Funding for the entire Fellowship program will be routed via the Hubble Space Telescope budget, which is effectively "protected", and funded at ~$97M per year. The money saved by merging and contracting the program (about $6M at steady-state) will be re-invested in the community by bolstering R&A funding, e.g. ROSES.  Update: The money saved will apparently not be routed to Balloon and Rocket missions, as originally rumored. See Update #1 below.   

Check out pages 11-13 of the Astrophysics Subcommittee's October 2016 meeting minutes for more information, including a summary of the discussion that led to this decision. This proposal was initially brought before the subcommittee in their July 2016 meeting - you can read those minutes here (see pages 7-9). 


UPDATE 1/2 (7 June 2017): I've just had a great conversation with Dr. Kartik Sheth, Program Scientist at NASA HQ and Project Scientist for the new unified NASA Hubble Fellowship (described below). He provided some critical information regarding the motivation behind this decision. 

 

Read Kartik's Presentation to the APS Committee Here

This document provides many answers to questions that have been raised by Paul's letter. Kartik is encouraging those with additional questions to email him (kartik.sheth [at] nasa [dot] gov). 


UPDATE 2/2 (1 September 2017): The new NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP) is now officially live, and the call for proposals is released. The new unified application portal can be found here. Applications are due on November 2, 2017.

Grant Tremblay

Dr. Grant Tremblay is an Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics