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.”