Wednesday, July 6, 2011

James Webb Space Telescope on the Chopping Block?

The House Appropriations committee released it's preliminary 2012 budget for "Commerce, Justice, and Science" and the news for science at NASA is not pretty.  From the committee's press release:
"The budget includes... $4.5 billion for NASA science programs, which is $431 million below last year's levels.  The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management."
NASA originally proposed a lunch date of 2011 and a total cost of $1.6 billion.  Current estimates place the expected launch date in 2018 at the earliest with a price tag of over $6.8 billion.  With government finances getting tight and everybody in Washington in a budget-cutting mood.  It looks like the next of NASA's flagship science missions might never make it off the ground.


  1. Man, if JWST is cut this would be such a big deal. 

  2. The worst part is that if it gets cut NASA will simply lose the funding, so it's not like the money will be available for other projects.  If this gets canceled there won't be another Observatory-class mission for maybe 15 or 20 years.

  3. The "plagued by poor management" part is concerning. Either there are issues with the mission or someone on the committee has an ax to grind. I noticed that in the rest of press release there is no mention of "poor management" or implied useless spending, even when budgets are cut by 25% or more. I'm sure that the JWST is not the only thing on that list that is "over budget" but it is the only one that got a "tisk tisk" for being over budget.

  4. There is an email going around my department at the moment. Here is the bulk of it.

    "The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2012
    Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill.

    NASA loses nearly $2B in total of which $431 is lost from NASA Science and
    terminate JWST.  The Space science part:

    "$4.5 billion for NASA Science programs, which is $431 million below last
    year's level. The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space
    Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor

    Note that the money is LOST COMPLETELY from Astrophysics and Space Science.
    It is for deficit reduction.  This is as expected.  Every time an astronomy
    program has been terminated or reduced over the last few years,
    Astrophysics has lost the funding. Terminating JWST would the same -
    Astrophysics loses all the funding. Yet this termination would go beyond
    what has happened over the last few years - the funds would be lost to
    Space Science and NASA also....

    This is not the last word.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee will
    consider this bill tomorrow.  And the Senate will also have a separate bill
    on NASA funding. However, in the present climate this step puts the
    centerpiece of astronomy's future at great risk.

    JWST and Astrophysics has entered a very dangerous zone.

    The impacts are numerous if JWST is terminated:

    1)  termination is very damaging for future astronomy and astrophysics
    scientific productivity and for the pre-eminence of US science;

    2)  termination would result in no observatory-class mission to carry out
    broadly-based research when the current Great Observatories reach

    3)  termination undercuts the Decadal Survey process since it was the top
    ranked program in the prior 2000 Decadal Survey, and it is identified
    numerous times in the 2010 Decadal Survey as a foundational program for
    future astrophysics research;

    4)  termination of JWST, as the natural successor to Hubble, would result
    in the loss, once Hubble fails, of a very large part of the remarkable
    public interest that astronomy has enjoyed;

    5)  termination would eliminate a major source of inspirational science
    education and outreach results, particularly for the interest in STEM
    (science, technology, engineering and math) that comes from the high
    profile HST and JWST science results;

    6)  termination would reduce the strength and visibility world-wide of the
    US science program, not just astrophysics;

    7)  termination would reduce US credibility as an international partner
    given the Canadian and European partnership on JWST and their substantial
    contributions to the program;

    8)  termination of JWST, following on from the termination of the SSC
    (Superconducting Super Collider), would send the message that the US is
    relinquishing leadership in major science projects -- it will be very
    difficult to start any other major science project or mission;

    9)  termination would eliminate the broadly-based research funding for the
    community that results from the Great Observatory-class missions if none
    are operating, and greatly reduces opportunities for undergraduate,
    graduate and post-graduate education;"

    That about sums it up.

  5. And in addition to the negative science impact, the PR impact will be equally devastating.  How many of you have seen an awesome picture of some galaxy or nebula that made you feel that science is cool?  Odds are it was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope which has inspired an entire generation of people with the idea that this stuff is really interesting and cool.

    Now, the next generation "Hubble", the JWST, that stands in position to inspire yet another generation with even "cooler" pictures of distant objects that have yet to be seen, is possibly on the chopping block.  It is sad both for science and for PR.

  6. As the above email points out, one of the biggest problems with terminating the JWST is not necessarily the loss of science, but the fact that no one will take us seriously any more. If they canceled Hubble there would be plenty of grumbling but our scientific partners (Europe, Australia, Canada, Japan etc.) would most likely say, "Oh well, it had to happen some time." But by canceling the top of the line space telescope their response will most likely be, "We can't work with the Americans anymore because they will just cancel every new project half way through and leave us in a lurch."

    I may have already mentioned this before but recently I was looking into participating in a project where I would go study in Australia for the summer, but when we contacted people down under about the possibility their response was, "We can't do that because we are being instructed by the government to cease or restrict all science interaction with the US." If this JWST thing goes through it will only augment the problem.

  7. One thing that can be done is you can write your <a href=">House representative here</a>.  It's really easy and I'm sure if enough people complain about this it will get noticed.


To add a link to text:
<a href="URL">Text</a>