noao0211 — Organization Release

AURA Starts New Cooperative Agreement with NSF to Operate NOAO and NSO

26 November 2002

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Inc., has entered into a new cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation for AURA to continue to operate the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and the National Solar Observatory (NSO) through September 30, 2007.

The cooperative agreement provides $175 million for the management and operations of these national observatories over the next five years. The completion of this agreement follows a May 2002 decision by the NSF’s governing body, the National Science Board, to approve the foundation’s recommendation to re-select AURA as the managing organization for NOAO and NSO; this decision by the board was the culmination of a year-long, open competition.

AURA established NOAO and NSO, and has operated them for more than 40 years. NOAO consists of Kitt Peak National Observatory and the NOAO Gemini Science Center, both based in Tucson, AZ, and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, La Serena, Chile. NSO operates a variety of solar telescope facilities on Kitt Peak and on Sacramento Peak, NM.

These premier public observatories have been central to the development of astronomy in the United States, through their rich heritage of scientific discovery and the invaluable observational experience they’ve provided for generations of astronomers,” said AURA President William S. Smith. “The renewal of AURA’s stewardship of them represents a tremendous opportunity for our members and staff to lead the community toward a renewed vision for ground-based astronomy in the age of ever-larger space telescopes and radio telescopes.

The decision by the NSF and the National Science Board to work with AURA is a strong affirmation that the association and its observatories can serve as the effective national leadership organizations envisioned by the most recent Decadal Survey of astronomy,” said John Huchra of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the chair of the AURA Board of Directors.

NOAO Director Jeremy Mould and NSO Director Steve Keil led the development of long-range plans for the observatories.

We look forward to getting on with the work of implementing the vision presented in the AURA proposal, including new generations of instruments for our current telescopes, the proposed Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope,” Mould said. “Important new community-wide initiatives such as the Telescope System Instrumentation Program are in place, and we will continue to promote increased public education and outreach efforts.

We’re gratified that the NSO has been recognized for its efforts over the past several years to help prepare the solar astronomy community for the new era envisioned by the Decadal Survey,” Keil said. “We’re already hard at work to transform the 4-meter Advanced Technology Solar Telescope from a concept into a reality by early next decade.

AURA is a consortium of 36 universities and non-profit institutions committed to advancing the frontiers of astronomy. AURA manages world-class facilities on behalf of the NSF and NASA that are open to all astronomers on a merit basis. In addition to NOAO and NSO, AURA manages the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, and the International Gemini Observatory, based in Hilo, HI.


Douglas Isbell
Public Information OfficerNational Optical Astronomy Observatory
Tel: 520/318-8214

About the Release

Release No.:noao0211
Legacy ID:NOAO 02-11