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.


52 Responses

  1. Chad W says:

    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 says:

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

      • Jamie Kitchen says:

        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.

        Too bad.

  2. Anonymous says:

    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.

  3. Anonymous says:

    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.

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    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.

  5. Richard Mitnick says:

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

    • Anonymous says:

      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 now. Sadly it seems that only the more severe pain of disasterous calamity might change the current horridly dysfunctional political climate where what is best for the nation’s future (and therefore everybody) is never a policy consideration. If this sounds like a zealous statement then you are correct, scientists in this nation should not take this lying down, it is like getting kicked in the teeth.

  6. Victor Smith says:

    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 ensure that congressman X will keep his seat, and his influence – these are the issues that congress is most interested in addressing. Not one congressman in 20 can see past the end of his own term in office, and regime building is the primary aim of the majority of our esteemed congressmen. Whether it’s Energy, Space, Science or the Public Welfare, most congressmen take the short view with respect to problem solving. The lobbyists don’t care about the future of Man, or even his survival, they care about keeping their employers making lots of money at the expense of anyone that gets in the way. Big Oil pays the best, so to hell with alternative energy…the big space coast manufacturers pay big because they’ve got a huge public feedbag, so let’s strangle private aerospace…it’s easier to manipulate dull uninformed people, so lets kill programs to promote science and math, and cut back education and funding for the public welfare and people will be so angry in general that, having not been taught better, they’ll support what they’re told to support and those who control the nations purse strings can tighten their grip. Wake up America, how long will we allow them to manipulate us like this??

  7. Anonymous says:

    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…..

  8. Ken Lord says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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.

        • Torbjörn Larsson says:

          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 difference.

          The education/national pride thing: “No JWST means giving it to the Chinese”. Especially if US scientists take their business there. =D

        • Anonymous says:

          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 says:

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

          • Anonymous says:

            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 looking for, within the time/budget limits we had” because they’ll be cut the least slack (compared to, say, a military program…and even *they* get the axe too. Look up the ‘Sergeant York’ anti-aircraft system, for example) if things get out of hand.

            Poor management in a good cause, is still poor management.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      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).

    • Anonymous says:

      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.

  9. Anonymous says:

    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

  10. Anonymous says:

    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

  11. Anonymous says:

    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.

  12. Anonymous says:

    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 such treachery. Meanwhile they fail to replenish or build infrastructure and allow the brains of the world to slip overseas by failing to outbid CERN for the LHC project. Allowing NASA to fall into ruins will result in a similar exodus of the best and brightest to places who care to surge ahead into the future rather than only selfishly counting coins in the present while the nation decays around them. The excuse of budget over-runs is ridiculous considering that is business as usual for any government project.

  13. Anonymous says:

    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.

  14. Baris Bicer says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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 military, not the girl scouts and cut down the AC spending like they should’ve years ago.

        We can’t rely on Hubble forever and scrapping a project to replace it at this stage would indeed make the money spent a complete waste.

      • Justin Hartberger says:

        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 military, not the girl scouts and cut down the AC spending like they should’ve years ago.

        We can’t rely on Hubble forever and scrapping a project to replace it at this stage would indeed make the money spent a complete waste.

        • Victor Smith says:

          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 a big fence, right?

  15. Bil Irving says:

    Can’t China build it?

    • Anonymous says:

      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 says:

      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…)

  16. 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?!

  17. Anonymous says:

    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 their job. For those who still have jobs, salaries are declining, the generall prospects are felt to be dull. In such an environment, people start thinking that the appliance of science and the public expenses made on this may not mean progress for their own future.
    One of the results means cuts for the NASA. I am afraid that even if the JWST project were well managed, this might not save it.

    • Bil Irving says:

      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 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.

      NASA’s budget is pocket change to the US economy, and it has already been slashed to the point that the manned space programme no longer exists. This latest proposal is vindictive, short-sighted and moronic enough that I can almost believe it comes from America. God save us from the Christian Right and Flat Earthers.

      In short though, the answer is international co-operation on a project of this scale & importance. You should get China, Russia, France etc involved.

      • Anonymous says:

        “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 says:

          “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 says:

            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.

          • William Sparrow says:

            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 says:

          “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.

  18. Anonymous says:

    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.

  19. Anonymous says:

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

  20. Tom says:

    Sigh

  21. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    More Commerce, less Science – where is the Justice?

    So, unless ground based telescopes can step up (or the mentioned Herschel), another window to the exciting field of exoplanets can be out. And all the other stuff on the early/big universe.

    I pitch in with others here, if this happens and when US space science recovers, maybe it is time to go International™ as easily as it was to go Commercial™. It is probably harder to bungle cooperative projects too, too many risk their positions.

  22. Eric Ellis says:

    This is awful. My employer did some prototyping work for NASA Goddard for JWST. Hope it doesn’t get cancelled…

  23. Anonymous says:

    Mismanaged? NASA has the charter to manage the program. Maybe the era of “spectator management” is coming to an end. Too many programs, both space and defense are managed from afar. If you were building a house you would be checking your contractor progress everyday, not in a monthly Program Management Review (PMR). Embed your people into the management team so you know what’s going on and stop asking them to tell you how the program is going.

  24. ITSRUF says:

    Just a point about the US spanding money on wars….

    The cost of the 9 year war in Iraq is about the same amount as the “Unjust” Obama stimulus project that “wasn’t as shovel-ready as we had hoped.”

    The cost of the war (not including lives of course) over nine years is equal to 25% of the YEARLY budget of the US. So was the Stimulus Package. Instead of wasting 1 trillion $ on stimulus that didn’t work, that money could have gone to NASA. Could you imagine NASA with a $1T budget?

  25. Christopher Eric Smith says:

    This makes me hate my country more than any other news I have heard recently. War on drugs, FAIL….war on “terror”…who knows. America needs a f*cking reboot….I’m 36 and I swear to god if this telescope is sh*t canned it will be the worst news….ugh.

    AMERICANS PLEASE GOD WAKE UP!!!!!! PRIORITIES MAN….lets stop ALL global poliece unless a situation of Genocide…get some health care like every other 1st world nation and lets FIGURE OUT THIS WHOLE UNIVERSE THING…PLEASE!!!!

  26. Christopher Eric Smith says:

    Still angry, mabye I am oversimplyfying. But how much money have we spent on making sure that people don’t smoke POT. How many MORE Steal Fighters do we need REALLY!? Do we REALLY need a stealth NAVY? COME ON!!!!!

    As someone who has recently started living over seas in a few countries, I no longer see America as the land of the free. People in Sydney and in Prague are MUCH more free than I have EVER been in my country.

    America is the land of the illinformed populace, the scared government…it’s the most scared country in the world. American freedom is the right to own a pistol…this is not freedom, this is crap. America is a big dumb “jock” and it acts like it constantly. I’m sick of it.

    The things the people in my country care about are all based on living a life entirely IN our country, and taking everything we hear and know at face value. Does our government over spend..YES…does that mean you stop spending money on EVERYTHING NO!?

    You stop spending on things that don’t matter, and you continue spending on things that DO matter. Things like the health of the people in our nation, the saftey of the people in our nation (I think we have this down for more than 50 years or so) and by leading the world in the advancement of the human race.

    BUT…maybe I’m wrong…I think it’s better that America spend it’s money on finding new and creative ways to kill Arabs…yeah…now that I think about it…this is for sure the best way to forge ahead.

  27. Lawmakers are mostly lawyers not engineers. Applying economic concepts used to cancel the JW telescope, landing on the Moon could have been canceled. The lawmakers are the people who approved 1 trillion $ for Economic Stimulus and the new Health Care system. This reflects their wisdom or lack of it

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