Its astronomy advisory committee meeting time in DC. The Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council held its meeting on Oct. 8-9. And the Congressionally Chartered AAAC held its meeting last week (Oct. 15-16). You can see presentations from the AAAC meeting here.
It was interesting to see the process of how federal agencies like NASA, NSF, and DOE get advice from the community. Everyone is waiting with bated breath for the Astro2010 Decadal Survey before making too many new plans for Astrophysics. In addition to various mission updates (Fermi is performing fabulously! so is Kepler), there was an interesting discussion about whether to start a new line of named postdoctoral fellowships (like Hubble, Einstein, Sagan) for technology/instrumentation. Its also clear that inter-agency cooperation (NASA, NSF, DOE) will be the way of the future. There was even talk of whether this would be the last US decadal survey because it would be a global effort from next time. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
On a policy matter – Congress just passed the FY10 Energy and Water Appropriations bill and sent it to the Prez for his signature. Why do we care? Because this provides funding for DOE and DOE needs to re-start the production of Pu-238 in order to produce RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators) to explore the solar system. It made it into the Administration’s budget request this year – but Congress zeroed out the request saying they want more details. So we’ll have to make sure it gets funded next year! (If you are interested in this issue, see the NRC report.)