Minutes of AXAF Users' Committee (AUC) Meeting, December 15, 1997

Committee members present: Keith Arnaud (for Rich Kelly), Jill Bechtold, Webster Cash, JP Caillault, Lynn Cominsky, Kathy Flanagan, Steve Kahn, Craig Sarazin, Fred Seward, Allyn Tennant, Mike Watson, Ray White.

NASA HQ personnel present: Paul Hertz

Observers present: Mike Bicay from IPAC

Status of Project

The status of AXAF and the ASC was reported by Harvey Tananbaum, ASC Director. The instrumentation section was found to run cold in the thermal balance test and strip heaters were added. Some Ta strips used as cosmic ray shielding came loose and interfered with SIM motion. These have been removed. TRW has problems with the spacecraft assembly and test. TRW has asked for a delay in delivery of the observatory which could delay the launch. TRW has gone from 2 to 3 shifts/day. There are also incentive awards. Since only Columbia can carry AXAF, a slip will require coordination with other missions as well. There will probably be a delay of a few months but further details will not be known before the end of January. There will be no change in the AO-1 proposal deadline.

Proposal Preparation Tools

Keith Arnaud presented a case for making XSPEC grating response matrices available to the community in time for preparation of cycle 1 proposals. Several Committee members agreed strongly.

There was discussion of MARX details, some problems with Solaris 2.6, a bug in ObsCat, improvements to ObsVis, and long time delays encountered by European users. Mirror sites in Europe and on the west coast were suggested. Mike Watson recommended that the ASC supply the HEASARC a list of AXAF observations for use with W3browse. (This was done soon after the meeting)


Jill Bechtold commented that the education section of the NRA implied that this was a big part of the proposal. She thought that it should not have this much emphasis. The Committee was reminded that education is an important part of the NASA program. The Committee noted that the NRA states that the education part is to be used as a tie-breaker for otherwise-equal proposals in the phase 2 (funding) review, and would not affect the allocation of observing time and targets. It was suggested that people writing more than one proposal use the same education section for each.

AXAF Fellowships

Nancy Evans summarized the status of the newly instituted Fellowship Program. The program was announced and advertised. Sixty three applications have been received for three slots. A seven person review committee has been appointed and the review set for Jan. 13-14. Offers will be made on Jan. 20 and acceptance required on or before Feb. 15.

The Committee advised that the names of the evaluation committee should not be made public before the review and that there be a press release when the winning three fellows are selected. At present, any given institution would be allowed only one AXAF Fellow; in steady-state, that would imply that only one of the nine active Fellows (three per year with three year terms) could be at a single institution. The Committee expressed some concern that this might be too restrictive, particularly for large centers of X-ray astronomy, such as the CfA. The ASC Director stated that he was not in favor of changing the host institution rules at this time. The Committee asked for some statistics concerning the applications at the next meeting: How many applicants have X-ray backgrounds? What is the distribution of institutions which applicants have chosen?

NASA Concerns

Paul Hertz spoke about the importance of AXAF to high-energy astronomy. AXAF is more important than just good science. Visibility of the mission is high and, since new missions are started by consensus, the mission is very important for X-ray astronomy. AXAF must "do things right". The program must be (and appear to be) squeaky clean. AXAF must do a super job on public relations. There was discussion of animation, simulations, and press releases. Lynn Cominsky stated that the best way to get press attention is to embargo results and release at a meeting.

Rules for the Peer Review

Rules for proposal handling, technical review, and the peer review were generated by the ASC, NASA, and this committee. These were distributed before the meeting and there was considerable discussion during the meeting. Of most interest were: the technical review, instructions to the reviewers, and conflict of interest. Fred Seward will incorporate the Committees suggestions into the rules and send to NASA and the Committee for comment. The intent is to generate a set of NASA-approved procedures and post them so everyone is aware of the rules. Several Committee members commended this effort to produce a set of written rules for the peer review.

The ASC plans to use the computer to check many of the proposal parameters and to set a flag for the technical reviewer if any check identifies a parameter which might be unacceptable, The Committee thought it would be a good idea to incorporate some of this into RPS for the next review. Also, a box for the proposer to indicate an extended source might save time.

The Committee decided that, if coordinate problems were identified, these could be communicated to the proposers and resolved before the review as long as a record of the email correspondence was kept and passed to the review panel.

The Committee thought 8-10 technical reviewers should be adequate and that these reviewers should be drawn from the ASC.

Paul Hertz proposed a new grading scheme for proposals wherein the highest grade and the lowest grade were not counted. The Committee decided to use the usual procedure but to keep track of grades calculated under Paul's system to see if the ranking is different.

Keith Arnaud advised that those reviewers who will be asked to participate in the stage 2 review should be informed of this at the time they were invited to review for stage 1.

Fred Seward had circulated a proposal to pay peer reviewers with GTO time. The Committee voted 8 to 3 to reject this idea.

AXAF Software Demonstration

The data model and three programs were demonstrated to the Committee: ASCfit, MARX, and a Voronoi tessellation and percolation (VTP) source detection algorithm.

New Committee Members

Craig Sarazin is now the Chair of the Committee. Fred Seward, and Allyn Tennant will become ex officio, non-voting members. Kathy Flanagan and Hy Spinrad will leave the Committee. Three new members will be chosen by Craig and Harvey.

Next Meeting

Considering the probable delay in launch, the next meeting will be in the summer of 1998.