Artist impression of the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA
Artist impression of the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA

James Webb, NASA

Proposed NASA Budget Bill Would Cancel James Webb Space Telescope

6 Jul , 2011 by

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The US House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee has proposed a NASA spending bill that would put NASA’s budget at pre-2008 levels and cancel the $6.5 billion James Webb Space Telescope. Space News reports that the proposal would cut $1.6 billion from NASA’s current budget, which is nearly $2 billion less than President Obama’s 2012 budget request for NASA, giving the space agency just $16.8 billion to work with.

This news is not sitting well with scientists and researchers, with one astrophysicist saying this move could “kill US space science for decades.” Dr. C. Megan Urry, Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Chair of the Yale Physics Department said she has already written her congressmen and representatives to stand against this bill, “for the good of science, STEM education, and the nation.”

“I think this is an extremely serious situation,” Urry told Universe Today, “and I think the James Webb Telescope is an extraordinarily important mission. It was recommended in the 2000 Decadal Survey and was strongly endorsed in the 2010 Decadal Survey, so the science community has supported this mission for a long time.”

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) quickly responded with a statement objecting to the axing of JWST, saying “Over the past year, NASA managers and the science community have undertaken a concerted effort to establish a budget and technology plan that allows the launch of JWST by 2018. The proposal by the Congress to terminate the program comes at a time when these efforts are coming to fruition.”

The press release that came out along with the draft states that that the bill terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope because it is “billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.”

Space News reports that the draft appropriations bill, which the subcommittee is scheduled to vote on July 7, also includes $1.95 billion for the Space Launch System — the heavy-lift rocket Congress ordered NASA to build for deep space exploration. The proposed 2012 funding level is $150 million more than the heavy lifter got for 2011, but some $700 million below the amount recommended in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which became law in October. The bill would trim $431 million from NASA science, compared to 2011 enacted levels.

NASA may be an easy target for budget cuts in these lean times Reports like the one on NPR that stated the US military spends over $20 billion a year just for air conditioning the tents in Iraq and Afghanistan have many wondering about priorities in government.

“Killing the JWST is not the answer to budget woes,” said astrophysicist Brooke Simmons via Twitter.

It should be noted that JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and there is nothing else even remotely in the works that could replace what JWST is designed to do.

On the proposed JWST cancellation, Dr. William S. Smith, President of AURA said “Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA’s science program. JWST is NASA’s premier science facility, unsurpassed by any other telescope now or in the future.”

Sources: Space News, NPR , Appropriations Committee Press Release

By  -        
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.


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Chad W
Guest
Chad W
July 6, 2011 6:50 PM

Maybe if the team managing the JWT hadn’t been so negligent and went over budget by BILLIONS, this wouldn’t have happened.

Baris Bicer
Guest
Baris Bicer
July 7, 2011 4:45 AM

Maybe if they weren’t getting their budgets cut constantly they wouldn’t have gone over, ever think of that?

Jamie Kitchen
Guest
Jamie Kitchen
July 7, 2011 4:51 PM
I agree. I remember reading several years ago where the amount of frustration that was building within the ranks was incredible. This was mostly due to changing priorities coming from on high who in turn were being pushed by the gov. beurocrats. A month barely went by when something was not being changed. The vast majority of the folks worked very hard and long hours to try and keep it all moving forward. It seemed from what I read that most of these changes were the result of having to do more with less resources but ended up accomplshing the opposite result. The upper level said we only have this to work with now so make it work.… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 6, 2011 7:06 PM

The JWST management team should have been relieved of their positions as soon as it was shown they had terribly mismanaged the project. Director Bolden has refused to take any meaningful action to correct the problems for that project.

I want to see the JWST launched and bringing back images that would put the HST to shame. However it is foolish to continue throwing money at this project without MAJOR changes, starting at the top.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 6, 2011 7:06 PM

The JWST management team should have been relieved of their positions as soon as it was shown they had terribly mismanaged the project. Director Bolden has refused to take any meaningful action to correct the problems for that project.

I want to see the JWST launched and bringing back images that would put the HST to shame. However it is foolish to continue throwing money at this project without MAJOR changes, starting at the top.

Ray Fowler
Guest
Ray Fowler
July 6, 2011 7:15 PM

Maybe if they renamed the JWST to the James Webb Socialism Terminator then they would get billions and billions to build it as quickly as possible.

Richard Mitnick
Guest
Richard Mitnick
July 6, 2011 7:56 PM

Is it the same bunch of Republicans who wanted to go after all of the D.O.E. labs?

Greg
Member
Greg
July 7, 2011 3:38 AM
That party’s recent marriage to the religious right pushed them more towards the anti-intellectual roots that manifested so strongly during the Eisenhower administration. Anti-science is anti-sense and the long-term results will be as disasterous as pro-science policy was triumphant in the last century. The only thing that saved us from the Eisenhower gang was the Soviet’s success in the sciences which forced us to continue down that path rather than the inevitable selfish decay that normally follows when a nation wins world dominance after a major war. Once the cold war was “won” we went on a rollar coaster ride straight down that path into decadence and corruption and are beginning to feel the the pain of it… Read more »
Victor Smith
Guest
July 6, 2011 8:42 PM
This is simply another instance of politicians scrapping good science projects in order to scrape up funds for their constituents pet projects. Lets spend more billions on outdated parts built at space coast factories (rather than allocating funds to encourage innovative private firms to produce workable, new designs which might cause certain political cronies to lose funding), and we can justify that by putting these outdated odds and ends together into substandard rockets so that eventually we can show the entire space program to be faulty and free up all that lovely money to use for tax cuts for the wealthy. Congress has proven, time after time, that it is concerned only with short term goals. What will… Read more »
DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
July 6, 2011 9:30 PM

That’s true for politicians and the economy. Sadly.

DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
July 6, 2011 9:28 PM

Maybe there’s a chance, if one tells the Republicans that it is good for the freedom of the American people. Then, they will support it at all costs…..

Ken Lord
Guest
July 6, 2011 9:41 PM

boooooo! Well I guess that’s what happens when you blow $3 Trillion dollars on an unjust war.

How many times was the US debt cap raised just due to the war? The war accounts for about 20% of the current US debt. And if the republicans don’t soon agree to raise the cap more, the Taliban will be celebrating victory … in the form of an economic catastrophe when the US defaults on it’s debt payments. Just as the USSR was destroyed, bankrupted partly by their Afghanistan war. And people are worried about Greece defaulting! peanuts!

$3 Trillion Citation: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3419840.ece

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 12:02 AM

And that has what to do with JWST (mis)management…?

That more money is possibly being spent questionably somewhere else, absolves them of nothing.

Bil Irving
Guest
July 7, 2011 12:39 PM

So the human race is denied one of the most important scientific endeavours for the next 20 years just to punish a few bad managers? There’s something wrong there.

The US treasury is a big pie. All government departments compete and vy for as much of that pie as they can get. It’s all a question of making sure the money goes to where it will do the most good… especially true if there is less of it now than there used to be.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
July 7, 2011 4:06 PM
If you ask between two choices that can both be swung, it is the fallacy of false choice. US will not go into bankruptcy by paying for the JWST. If you get into the actual business of deciding which is best (especially if you dearly want to cut cost), I would think space investment gives more ROI than military investment. But the latter is a protected sector by way of politicians and the glutton that slight oversight provides. Space science will never get near that rotten state, nor outgrow the military sector. I don’t think there is any rational economical procedure that can amend this. The problem is political, and there is where the science can make a… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:11 PM

Which doesn’t change what I said. You don’t fix bad management just by throwing more money at it. Had they stayed closer to budget, they would be a less-tempting target for cancellation.

All other ‘government departments’ ideally are subject to the same logic, all of them think they’re the most deserving.

Victor Smith
Guest
July 7, 2011 9:12 PM

Look to Defense spending if you’re looking for mismanagement and gross overspending and waste, not the small budget for space expenditures.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 9:31 PM
Which *still* doesn’t change what I said. Yes, there’s mismanagement all through government. But this is the particular slice of government we care about, and this is the reason it’s in trouble. Pointing at the other guy and saying “Hey, he’s an even bigger mess than I am.” doesn’t help you…even if it’s the truth. Space science projects don’t have big lobbies, they can least afford the negative attention from doing a bad job. Always remember, what some of us consider necessary information to the future of mankind, is to many others a governmental luxury. They most need to be able to say; “We’re doing what we set out to do, getting the kind of information we were… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
July 7, 2011 3:55 PM

OT, but I am never sure if people are trying to deflate the concept of war. There were several wars in that link, “the war on terrorism” wasn’t an actual war.

Speaking of deflation, I don’t think the term “unjust” is correctly used either. One war was illegal (Iraq), and it is a pity the ICC isn’t yet allowed to put nations on the stand. The other war had other nations invited by the state of Afghanistan, presumably it was just (as in guided by international justice procedure).

lawnboy_4
Member
lawnboy_4
July 7, 2011 5:44 PM

What should be the Citation on the ex-British Empire that robbed labor and resources from every continent in the world for 200 years? Maybe what they still have left is their Citation?

Stick to the Issue of Management.

Victor Smith
Guest
July 7, 2011 9:16 PM

What in the world is that statement supposed to mean??

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
July 6, 2011 11:28 PM

This is disappointing. The cost overruns are pretty much standard fair. Any contracting outfit which bid on the actual cost loses. This is about political expediency in the face of this nativistic Tea Party movement.

To be honest I think before long scientific research is likely to be found outside this country.

LC

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
July 6, 2011 11:28 PM

This is disappointing. The cost overruns are pretty much standard fair. Any contracting outfit which bid on the actual cost loses. This is about political expediency in the face of this nativistic Tea Party movement.

To be honest I think before long scientific research is likely to be found outside this country.

LC

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 12:08 AM

Great – another pricey US science project, cut only after investing billions. JWST just went the way of the Superconducting Super Collider.

To be honest, the astronomical community has been expecting this for some time. The question should now be how did such an important project get fumbled so so badly. Still, a terrible 24 hours for news in astronomy – Subaru down indefinitely, and now our best hope of answering some of the biggest questions humans have ever asked is axed. Terrible.

Greg
Member
Greg
July 7, 2011 2:59 AM
Just another feckless step by our pathetic leaders towards bringing a once powerful nation towards third world status. The lessons of very recent historical success are lost on them. The most powerful and successful nation on the planet was built over the last century on home grown industrial strength with a heavy emphasis on building both infrastructure and investing in science to both get ahead and stay ahead. Our myopic and selfish leaders of late have instead invested in giveaways for the poor who squander it in order to to buy their votes and to big corporations who ship both wealth and industry overseas or to Mexico free of the paralyzing taxes which should be imposed to stop… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:32 AM

JWST must remain in production and next generation ones be continued in planning stages. The benefits to mankind by each of these advances in technologies for telescopes can only continue to further humankind’s understanding of this universe and the way it was put tgether and continues to evolve.

Baris Bicer
Guest
Baris Bicer
July 7, 2011 4:43 AM

NO NO NO!!! OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CONGRESS STOP RUINING EVERYTHING I LOVE. If JWST goes down then I will completely lose hope in this country.

Politicians need to just eff off and leave science alone.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:14 PM

Congress writes the checks, and it’s other people’s money. I want JWST too, but no one can (or should) get a blank check. Just because it’s ‘science’ doesn’t mean that that’s not asking for trouble.

Justin Hartberger
Guest
Justin Hartberger
July 8, 2011 3:50 PM
Unfortunately there are parts of the government that do get blank checks. While I agree with the sentiment that they shouldn’t, this isn’t quite the same thing. This is a project that has had setbacks, some evidently due to some mismanagement, and probably other areas we aren’t privy to. Given the consistent cuts to NASA’s budget, there might even be a few caused by trying to find ways to help stay under. If we can waste 20 billion a year air conditioning tents overseas for little baby butter bars who can’t stand to sweat, we can at least let NASA finish the innovative and necessary scientific project that is already mostly finished. Remind those officers they joined the… Read more »
Justin Hartberger
Guest
Justin Hartberger
July 8, 2011 3:50 PM
Unfortunately there are parts of the government that do get blank checks. While I agree with the sentiment that they shouldn’t, this isn’t quite the same thing. This is a project that has had setbacks, some evidently due to some mismanagement, and probably other areas we aren’t privy to. Given the consistent cuts to NASA’s budget, there might even be a few caused by trying to find ways to help stay under. If we can waste 20 billion a year air conditioning tents overseas for little baby butter bars who can’t stand to sweat, we can at least let NASA finish the innovative and necessary scientific project that is already mostly finished. Remind those officers they joined the… Read more »
Victor Smith
Guest
July 8, 2011 9:08 PM
Yeah, but Justin you forget, this is the same congress that is mandating the end of Americas manned space program by scrapping all the shuttles long before we have anything to replace them. The same people that, in their fear of outsiders, spent $1.2 billion to build a fence between us and Mexico (not including the $100 million spent on studies aimed at mitigating upset due to such construction). Do you REALLY think they’ll have any qualms about cutting $1.6 billion out of NASAs budget, especially for a telescope that might reveal even MORE aliens?? My what a fence that would require. Hey, guys, maybe that’s the tactics we should use…they’d probably jump at the idea of building… Read more »
Bil Irving
Guest
July 7, 2011 7:51 AM

Can’t China build it?

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:21 PM

Why would they?

Just because China has seemingly deep pockets these days, doesn’t mean they’ll pay for someone else’s space research.

And ITAR restrictions would likely make sending any of that tech there, impossible. (and be honest, there are other non-science things China can do with good IR sensing that I’d rather not help them with…)

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:21 PM

Why would they?

Just because China has seemingly deep pockets these days, doesn’t mean they’ll pay for someone else’s space research.

And ITAR restrictions would likely make sending any of that tech there, impossible. (and be honest, there are other non-science things China can do with good IR sensing that I’d rather not help them with…)

Lochana Allendale Pahalawatte
Guest
July 7, 2011 8:41 AM

They can spend enough money on an unjust, stupid war that brings no good for anyone, but can’t spend for an important space mission that would help the whole of humankind for years to come. Wtf US?!

GBendt
Member
GBendt
July 7, 2011 9:33 AM
If you have no money and your donors cease to trust you, you are in the position that you must cut costs. The US economy used to be the greatest and richest in the world, but with the onset of globalization, companies found that they no longer had to rely solely on the US infrastructure and the skills of US employees to flourish, but could make well use of cheaper facilities, infrastructure and workforce elsewhere. That was good for the companies and their shareholders, but bad for the country. For the last decade, the US trade deficit has been growing by two billion dollars per day. At the same time, millions of people in the US have lost… Read more »
Bil Irving
Guest
July 7, 2011 11:58 AM
Could not disagree more. If you have no money and your donors cease to trust you, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis on what you’re spending across the board and THEN you can look to cut costs. What benefit does the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan serve to the world. Seriously. Three trillion dollars worth? I very much doubt it. We could build a Mars base for that, and still have enough left over to fly shuttles there every other week. James Webb would have advanced our understanding of the universe ten-fold, with the very real possibility of discovering other Earths close by which may harbour life. It would have allowed us to test theories on universe… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 4:18 PM

“James Webb would have advanced our understanding of the universe ten-fold, with the very real possibility of discovering other Earths close by which may harbour life. It would have allowed us to test theories on universe expansion through dark matter, dark energy, and help push humanity towards the point where we understand the fabric of space well enough that faster & cheaper space travel is commonplace.”

I agree totally.

I also have always known that there’s a segment of the public for whom that’s not a priority.

Victor Smith
Guest
July 7, 2011 9:29 PM

“I also have always known that there’s a segment of the public for whom that’s not a priority.”

Rather, I think, for that segment it’s not only not a priority, but a threat insofar as it will to some degree lessen their control over people, both economically and psychologically, a result they’ll fight to prevent.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
July 7, 2011 9:44 PM

I think you’re analyzing too deeply. Some people Just Don’t Care.

As simple as that. I’ve known too many such people to think otherwise. Greater understanding of the nature of the Universe doesn’t impress them. At the very least, you want those people to remain neutral, and not give them reason to point to that which they already don’t care about, as yet one more example of ‘government waste,’ especially at a time of major government debt.

William928
Member
William928
July 7, 2011 11:39 PM

It doesn’t impress them because they’re not intelligent enough to understand it. They cry give me my cheaply made goods from Wal-Mart without understanding what that implies. I could go on, but this latest cancellation sickens me. I truly can see the end of the USA as I’ve known it.

Bil Irving
Guest
July 7, 2011 11:08 PM

“I also have always known that there’s a segment of the public for whom that’s not a priority.”

Agreed again, but what I struggle to wrap my limited brain around is, there are more than 0.58% of the population for whom JWST and other such projects DO matter, and ARE a priority in at least some way. 0.58% by the way is the percentage total of the US budget for the whole of NASA in 2007.

Pocket change. But with the chance to win the lottery.

SteveZodiac
Member
SteveZodiac
July 7, 2011 12:46 PM

This is baad news, however, don’t forget there is a very good IR telescope up there at the moment called Herschel, it’s just not American, sorry.

sasanka_datta
Member
sasanka_datta
July 7, 2011 1:36 PM

That’s a really bad news for the scientific community. Indeed very sad.

Tom
Guest
Tom
July 7, 2011 2:01 PM

Sigh

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