Niebur, S. M. (2011) Planetary Science Missions: Assessing PI Experience. Low Cost Planetary Missions 9, June 2011. (in press)
Niebur, S. M., K. Singer, and K. Gardner-Vandy (2011) Women in Planetary Science: A New Resource. Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Baltimore, MD, July 2011. (abstract)
Niebur, S. M. (2010) Principal investigators and project managers: Insights from Discovery. Space Policy 29, August 2010, pp. 1-11.
NASA’s Discovery, Explorer, and Mars Scout mission lines have demonstrated over the past 15 years that with careful planning, flexible management techniques, and a commitment to cost control, small space science missions can be built and launched at a fraction of the price of strategic missions. Many credit management techniques such as co-location, early contracting for long-lead items, and a resistance to scope creep, but it is also important to examine what may be the most significant variable in small mission implementation: the roles and the relationship of the principal investigator, responsible to NASA for the success of the mission, and the project manager, responsible for delivering the mission to NASA. This paper reports on a series of fifty-five oral histories with principal investigators, project managers, co-investigators, system engineers, and senior management from nearly every competitively selected Discovery mission launched to date that discuss the definition and evolution of these roles and share revealing insights from the key players themselves. This paper will show that there are as many ways to define the principal investigator/project manager relationship as there are missions, and that the subtleties in the relationship often provide new management tools not practical in larger missions.
Niebur, S. M. (2010) An Interview with Thomas C. Duxbury: An American's Perspective on Phobos 2 and Mars 96. Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly, vol. 17:4.
Niebur, S. M. (2009) Women and Mission Leadership. Space Policy 26, November 2009, pp. 257-263.
Only one of NASA's planetary science flight missions in the past 30 years has been led by a women scientist as Principal Investigator. The number of senior women in the field is small, but women are still underutilized, as seen by a cohort age analysis correlating with median ages for various key science roles. Worse, the more junior women are not joining missions as Co-Investigators and Participating Scientists at rates approaching their representation in the field of planetary science. In fact, they are underutilized in these roles not by a few percent, but by greater than a factor of two. The pipeline of women gaining mission experience today is increasing, but it is not keeping pace with the rate that women are now choosing to stay in the field for postdoctoral studies and beyond. The numbers definitively show for the first time that, for whatever reason, women are still underrepresented in mission leadership at NASA.
Niebur, S. M. (2009) Principal Investigators and Mission Leadership. Space Policy 25, August 2009, pp. 181-186.
Principal Investigators of small and medium sized space and earth science missions face many challenges during formulation, design, development, integration and test, launch, and operations; these challenges may be more easily met by team leaders with prior mission experience. This paper reports the results of the first known demographic study of NASA's Principal-Investigator-led missions and makes recommendations for preparing additional space scientists to lead. The addition of a Deputy Principal Investigator to proposal teams could reduce the burden on the Principal Investigator and provide an opportunity for additional scientists to gain mission leadership experience useful on future missions. The pool of mission-knowledgeable scientists could further be expanded to include scientists earlier in their careers via carefully managed Participating Scientist Programs. Adding Deputy Principal Investigators and Participating Scientist Programs to missions as a matter of course would reinforce effective management practices, open the field of proposers, and provide concrete ways to mentor the next generation of Principal Investigators.