We argue that US President Joe Biden’s planned investment in national infrastructure (see Nature 593, 19–20; 2021) should include the next generation of astronomy facilities. Priorities for these will be identified by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, expected in July. They will be crucial to US research, development and diplomacy.
For example, the speedy development of vaccines against COVID‑19 relied on previous big investments in scientific infrastructure, such as synchrotron X-ray sources and computational power. And remote working is predicated on Wi-Fi technologies that were a by-product of research in radio-astronomy facilities.
US leadership in science rests in part on the facilities we operate. These have generated international collaborations to provide insight into how the Universe is structured and have contributed to Nobel prizes.
However, this leadership is jeopardized by our ageing observatory infrastructure. The 2018 US National Academy of Sciences report ‘Exoplanet Science Strategy’ concluded that progress requires substantial investment in extremely large telescopes on the ground, and ambitious space-based capabilities (see go.nature.com/3wsmzi2). These can take decades to put in place, and cost billions of dollars. Let’s start now.
Nature 594, 496 (2021)
A.C. is president and chief executive for Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), which manages the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) for the US National Science Foundation (NSF).