Hubble's successor: doomed or saved?

By Phil Plait | August 23, 2011 10:17 am

The James Webb Space Telescope is planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It will have a 6.5 meter (21 foot) mirror (Hubble’s is 2.4 meters, or 8 feet), and will look at the Universe in the near- to mid-infrared, where cooler objects like planets, dust clouds, and ancient galaxies glow brightly.

Its fate also hangs by a thread.

Originally planned to cost under a billion dollars and already be launched by now — NASA has currently spent about $3.5B on the mission with a launch date no sooner than 2018 — delays and cost overruns have hit the project hard, prompting the US House of Representatives to axe the budget for JWST, essentially killing the entire project in their proposed 2012 Federal budget. I wrote about this when the news broke, basically saying this was a dumb idea. The JWST cost overruns have been widely claimed to be from administrative mismanagement. Even if true, as Julianne Dalcanton at Cosmic Variance has eloquently argued, those errors are behind us. The components of the telescope are mostly built, being tested now, and it would make more sense to spend the money it’ll take to assemble and launch the ‘scope than to cancel the project and throw away the investment already made.

Now two bits of news have come up which confuse the issue.

One is that, according to Aviation Week, a cost analysis ordered by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) shows that the current price tag of the telescope will actually be $8.7 billion, an increase of more than $3B over an earlier NASA estimate.

Ouch. Bluntly put, that’s a huge blow to any campaign to save the telescope, and will make convincing this current Congress to fund the mission once again much, much harder.

The second bit of news (reported by Nature) is that NASA is looking to defray some of the extra cost by sharing it across the agency’s budget. NASA has different sections, called Directorates, with different goals, like Aeronautics, Space Exploration, and so on. JWST is under the Science Directorate, and is the flagship astrophysics mission. The idea now, to keep JWST going, is to get roughly $500 million of the needed costs from the other Directorates.

I’m of two minds on this. One is that it makes sense; JWST is a very big NASA priority, not just for science but for the Agency itself (the parallels with Hubble are pretty clear; it was the NASA flagship observatory as well and in many ways was the public face of the space agency). Splitting up costs across NASA itself reflects that.

On the other hand, if this happens, it takes money away from other projects. A lot of money. NASA has a finite budget — only about $18B annually, which may sound like a lot but is in reality a tiny drop in the Federal budget ocean. It’s facing cuts thanks to the new Tea Party Congress, cuts I am strongly against. But with one of its biggest projects running hugely over budget and way behind schedule, NASA is facing a terrible choice. Cut JWST, or borrow from Peter to pay Paul.

And even that cost defraying maneuver has to be approved. If the Senate agrees to cut JWST in their version of the Federal budget, then this is all for nothing. Until recently I would’ve bet against that — Barbara Mikulski is a fierce defender of NASA (Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are both in Maryland, but to be honest I get the impression she’s a science advocate anyway), but now I’m not so sure. When the panel ordered by Senator Mikulski says JWST is that far over budget, then the game may change.

So the political reality of this is now more complicated. As I said, it made sense to continue JWST when the major costs were behind us, but with this new information that may not be politically viable. I’ve worked on NASA projects in the past, and seen them get hit when some other mission needed more funding. It’s frustrating, and makes the affected project more difficult (sometimes causing a cascade effect — a mission gets delayed and needs more money, so NASA takes it from another mission, which must be delayed because now its pool of money is lower, and so on). However, in a realistic sense, it’s better to have some woes and belt-tightening rather than the outright cancellation of a major project… as long as the belt-tightening doesn’t strangle the other work (if you’ll pardon the partially mixed metaphor).

There is, of course, an obvious solution: Congress should fully fund NASA instead of starving it of needed assets. One area in which I agree with Congress is that there is a lot of waste in government, so I’d like to see that cleaned up and the money found put to actual, good use. JWST is a truly incredible mission. It will see farther than any telescope of its kind before. It will look at planets orbiting other stars, stars forming in nearby galaxies, and the light emitted from objects at the most distant realms of the Universe.

Just as importantly, it will once again reinvigorate the American public about science. This cannot be stressed enough. Hubble was also over budget and behind schedule, and the history of getting that eye in the sky is loaded with political games and NASA difficulties that would sound very familiar to those hearing the tales of JWST. Yet Hubble triumphed. Today, people don’t even think about the malfunctioning mirror embarrassment that made headlines for weeks; they just see the stunning images and profound scientific insights provided by the telescope. And they want more.

We can’t know just what JWST will see, and how it will further our knowledge. We simply know that it will, and that the images it takes will set the curiosity and minds of people afire.

There are many worthy things the government can spend money on, of course. But I think that an investment in the future of science, and in stoking the public’s imagination about the Universe, is well worth it.

JWST image credit: NASA


Related posts:

Congress threatens America’s future in space
Congress puts NASA and JWST on the chopping block
Hubble Gotchu 2
Wealth of science
What value space exploration?
How deep the Universe
Why explore space?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Piece of mind, Space, Top Post

Comments (98)

  1. Steve

    Unfortunately this is what trillions of deficit financed government welfare and warfare have brought us. And since defense and welfare are off the table for discussion between the two major parties, other programs will get cut. I agree it’s better to keep it rather than stop the project (SSSC anyone?) but that’s the reality today. The last decade has made it clear that neither party has any idea what they are doing, and they have no solutions.

  2. Francois Dufour

    I must disagree with your assessment. The proper metric for continuing a mission should always be whether the expected science return justifies the remaining expenditure. JWST might have been a reasonable mission for the original 900 M$ budget, or the later 1.5 G$.

    However, it has been firmly demonstrated by the Explorer program that smaller missions give a higher science out of the budget. As such, one can already question the use of flagship missions. Sure, some things are only achievable by flagships (say, you couldn’t have made Chandra XRO any other way or significantly cheaper), but you apparently can do more things and get higher return with smaller missions, and that’s the point of astrophysics, doing science.

    So, the currently relevant question, as pertains to JWST, is: Is the remaining ~5 G$ to spend justified by the science case? Furthermore, is that budget realistic?

    I cannot speak for the realism of this latest estimate, but I can absolutely say that the science case of JWST at 5 G$ is not justified compared to the same amount spent on other missions. We need a RXTE replacement, we need follow-up on CGRO/COMPTEL, EXIST is completely unfunded, WFIRST is in dire straits, Chandra will die eventually, so will Swift.

    Another point might be that cutting JWST to reintegrate its budget within the Astrophysics section (it is a separate item right now) could prevent a 50% cut to the overall astrophysics budget at NASA for the foreseeable future. Hence, in a way, kill JWST to save everyone else.

    P.S.: For anyone who cares, I am Canadian, and JWST’s Fine Guidance Sensor has taken up almost all the Canadian Space Agency’s astrophysics & exploration budget these last few years. I still say screw JWST. Reimburse the CSA and ESA if absolutely necessary.

  3. Yea, how about siphoning off a few bucks from the multi-billion dollar defense budget?

  4. Valorum

    Meanwhile, the Joint Strike Fighter program is estimated to be more than $150 billion over budget…

  5. Jeremy Rosen

    The sunk costs shouldn’t be an argument for incurring further costs. You can’t avoid the past spending, but you can avoid the future spending.

    There are way better arguments for the James Webb Telescope than that and using the sunk costs argument puts the pro-JWT camp at a disadvantage.

  6. Anchor

    One thing is certain: if JWST is sunk, after all the money, time and effort put into it so far, it really WOULD be a colossal waste.

    Can we afford THAT?

  7. Lynxreign

    One area in which I agree with Congress is that there is a lot of waste in government, so I’d like to see that cleaned up and the money found put to actual, good use.

    I hear this so frequently, but exactly where the “waste” is is never specified. Nearly all the time, when pressed, no-one can state where all this “waste” is. Much of the rest of the time, they mean entitlement programs and other spending that helps the poor or keeps business from defrauding the public.

    If you’re going to cut from the government’s budget, I’d start with cutting the “defense” budget in half.

    What is it you consider “waste”, Phil? Specifics, not just nebulous complaints.

  8. CFlannagan

    I don’t know much about how projects are ran (I’m just your average guy off a street), but I am in awe of stuff that Hubble telescope uncovered and am really looking forward to the successor (JWST), and I hope that the JWST project can somehow be saved. If the government ultimately decide to kill the JWST project, what exactly do they do with the parts & stuff that is already built? I hope it’s not all thrown away to waste. I hope they can (figuratively speaking) just put all that stuff into a room and leave it alone until eventually we come to our senses and decide we want to finance and finish the project.

    I’d hate to see the whole thing go to waste and we have to start from scratch all over again if the JWST project is killed, that would cost us *a lot* more than just storing JWST project and finishing it eventually some day in the future.

    Am I dreaming too much?

  9. Jason

    While I don’t agree with axing this program, I understand why this decision is being made. Think of it this way: you give your child a cell phone, and they go over there limit and incur charges of, say, $1,000. Do you let them keep the cell phone when they’ve proven they won’t be responsible with it?

  10. Dave

    @Anchor (6),

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good use of money to continue funding JWST. By some metrics, explorer-class missions tend to generate far more science (more papers, more citations) per dollar than flagship missions. The money that has been spent so far has been spent whether JWST is built or not. The question now is, what is the best way to spend the remaining several billion dollars. It’s still not completely clear that building JWST is the best way to get science out of the maybe $5 billion that still would have to be spent to make JWST.

    Cutting the money from NASA entirely would be a huge shame. But it’s certainly conceivable that the best use of the money (within NASA) would not be to finish JWST.

    Note: my own work will suffer significantly if JWST is canceled, so I’m not exactly enthusiastic about its potential cancelation. But I’m just trying to be honest about the cost/benefit.

  11. Bob

    This is just great. The US Coast Guard gets 17 billion to build/retrofit 250 ships, spends 7 billion so far and only has 2 ships to show for it. They even admit they can’t handle a project this big – but it doesn’t get cut.

    Yet hard science gets cut (or about to).

    http://gizmodo.com/5833232/the-us-coast-guard-spent-7-billion-and-has-two-ships-to-show-for-it

    I so want to leave this planet.

  12. Benji

    In the case NASA can’t keep JWST going, is it possible that some form of more involved international collaboration could save the project?

  13. Francois Dufour

    @ 6:

    “Can we afford THAT?”

    This is not the point. You can’t de-afford it, 3.5 G$ have been spent, the question is whether to spend and additional 5 G$ (or more, if it continues to slide) or do something else.

    My take is do something else. 5G$ is enough for a whole lot of missions. About 42 Small Explorers, 20 Medium Explorers or 10 Explorers. Hell, you could do ~5 Small Explorers a year on the JWST budget.

  14. Chief

    The argument is that the JWST will see further and enhance our future… You want to apply the same argument to the government and congress.

    It might be better to stick large billboards all over it with the names of the senators and congress persons who helped procure the funds to keep the project alive. ’50 years from now people will still know your name and how you advanced the understanding of the universe…’

    7 years from now we’ll be looking at pictures sent down with a small logo in the corner of each one with the name of the senator who brought this to you. (just like current tv channels and the corner logos).

    Hmm. Reelection advertising…

  15. Janus

    Yeah, it is always more important to fund bridges to nowhere than to fund science, exploration, and the future of the human race. The one thing no politician has is vision.

  16. The thing is that the economy could use money being spent on infrastucture and science. But at the moment the us is funding fighting on several fronts, an economy in trouble and a bunch of politicians who are more interested in destroying Obama over doing the right thing.

  17. Tom

    First off Senator Barbara Mikulski, my Senator, is no champion of science or NASA. She is an opportunist and only supports science and/or NASA when there is pork she can bring home. This is the person that as a member of the House said she opposed any further unmanned moon missions, because, in her words, “if the mission found something, like water, it would only encourage those that wanted to send people back to the moon.” I’ve got that letter at home somewhere. Second, if the cost of the JWST project ,which I find very exciting, looks to double to over $8 billion, we need to find out why before continuing. Maybe the people that are running this project should be investigated? This is just out of control.

  18. I find it incredible that cost estimates for this project could be off by an order of magnitude. There is obviously a) gross incompetence, b) willful deception, or some combination thereof at work here.

    I am a strong supporter of both the JWST (how else are we going to find new star systems to conquer?) and Strangelovian military projects (how else are we going to conquer them?), but there needs to be some accountability here. It’s high time to make an example of a few of these bungling bureaucrats, Captain Needa-style. This is no way to run an Empire! Where’s Darth Vader when you need him?

    Moff Jerjerrod: Welcome, Lord Vader. This is an unexpected pleasure. We are honored by your presence.
    Darth Vader: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I am here to put you back on schedule.
    Jerjerrod: I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast they can.
    Vader: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.
    Jerjerrod: I tell you that this station will be operational as planned.
    Vader: The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.
    Jerjerrod: But he asks the impossible! I need more men!
    Vader: Then perhaps you can tell him yourself when he arrives.
    Jerjerrod: [alarmed] The Emperor’s coming here?
    Vader: That is correct, Commander, and he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.
    Jerjerrod: We shall double our efforts.
    Vader: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

  19. Calli Arcale

    Lynxreign, I have some ideas of waste. They’re not easy to fix, though. Waste is a big problem throughout all of government spending — there is no portion of government spending immune to it. And fixing it involves *more* spending, which creates an interesting dilemma — you want to avoid spending more than you’ll save, after all, or the exercise is pointless. I think a great deal could probably be saved by simplifying a lot of programs. Right now, applying for benefits as part of a military family is a bureaucratic nightmare that practically requires an advanced degree in the various forms and policies — and even the people in charge of the policies don’t understand them. They can’t. There are just too many things out there to keep track of. This and other systems are mostly patchwork programs created by applying a hodgepodge of Acts of Congress to disparate systems in an attempt to comply with them. This is costly, and unfortunately not easy to fix because the fundamental cause is our democratic process, and obviously removing that would create much bigger problems.

    This isn’t as current anymore but is another example peculiar to defense contracting. It came out in 2006, before the current economic crisis, and honestly, nothing’s really improved since then. If anything, the problem is worse now. It’s a talk by then-secretary of the Navy Donald Winter. He was talking specifically about the Navy and its relationship with its contractors, but the same things could be applied to the relationships between contractors and other branches of the service, or even civilian agencies such as NASA:
    http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/secnav/winter/2006usnl_seaairspaceexposition.pdf

  20. BJN

    I get tired of pedantic analogies like this being similar to having your child run over their cell phone allowance. Big projects, public or private aren’t anything like your household budget or your cell bill. If you’re that naive, you’ll buy into all the simplistic nonsense that passes for “common sense” political discussion these days. I’ve yet to read just what qualifies as poor project management on the JWT project, but I also know that cutting-edge technology isn’t so easy to budget since you have no idea what obstacles you’ll find along the way. And when your funding is inconsistent, you inevitably lose the opportunity to make adjustments that could save cost and time over the run of the project.

    Cutting the project as “punishment” only punishes this country. Our collective prestige and ability to innovate are what will suffer, and we’ll all be poorer for the science discoveries that won’t be made. The rational way to deal with mismanagement is to change the managers, not flush your investment down the toilet.

    The Federal budget isn’t like your household budget. And speaking of personal responsibility, it’s time for many folks to realize that we have exactly the government that we created, both by our votes and by our apathetic negligence.

  21. bigdaddyhen

    Honest question to Phil and others. I know we have all seen the pretty pictures that hubble has produceds, and we assume JWST will do the same but only better. My question is, what actual tangible good has hubble provided, outside of “stunning images and profound scientific insights “? What have these insights done to advance actual science, other than just improving our knowledge of space. What good does knowing there is some other planet out there that we could not see before really do for us? I understand alot of advances we take for granted today have come from the space program, my question what specifically are we expecting to get out of this?

  22. Anchor

    “This is not the point.”

    Isn’t it? Not a single one of the other hypothetical missions could do the PARTICULAR science JWST is capable of. It’s not a good point to mix apples and turnips. I repeat: it WOULD be a waste if its sunk, and no amount of handwaving about alternative explorer-class missions raking in lots of other science (but NOT what JWST promises) for the money isn’t a relevant argument.

    I too am outraged by the ghastly cost overrun. While one side of me acknowledges that there were technological hurtles to overcome that can have hiked it up, the other side finds it dispicable of the contractor to fashion a full-scale (and heavy) model of the beast and ferry it around to various cities around the world for public display, as a means of ‘educating the public’ and promoting science (one guesses, via the ever-popular ‘GEE WHIZ’ factor). How many millions did THAT add to the cost?

  23. Mark

    @19,

    The beautiful images are really just the public face of Hubble. It’s not just pictures, it’s data. Reams upon reams of data that untrained folks like you and me can’t make heads or tails of. This data goes into qualified hands, people who do make sense of it and use it to come to conclusions about the nature of the universe. Folks like you and me never see it. We just get the pretty pictures.

    As for why we do it, well, there are plenty of reasons. The main one is, if we understand more about the universe, we’ll have a better idea of what to do in case some large rock decides to pay us a visit. We’d also like to know what’s going on in our neighborhood, near enough where we might be affected, but the only way to know ahead of time is to collect data on stuff that’s going on everywhere we can find it and produce models. Not to mention, most humans have an innate need to understand their place in the universe… well, understanding the universe helps with that.

    Scientific research is always a tossup. You never really know if you’re going to get new data or if the data is going to be useful in terms of bolstering the economy or producing a revolutionary scientific paper. But one thing is absolute: if you don’t try, you’ll never get anything from it.

  24. Janus

    ” other than just improving our knowledge”

    You’re joking right? That’s not a tangible good? “Just”?

  25. kirk

    What could anyone possibly say that would change your mind? The “$3.5B 7 years from now” could be (will be) “$23B 12 years from now” and you can just copypasta this post in 4 years.

  26. Bryan D

    Do all the contractors just use grossly conservative cost estimates to get the job?

    What they should be doing is say it’ll cost 15B and then finish at 8B and make everyone think you’re amazing.

  27. bigdaddyhen

    Janus, my question, what good is that knowledge alone. Does it allows us to do something else, does it allow build, or design or do something else, or is it more of a “hey, that cool, but I can’t really use that for anything” scenario? I would agure things closer to home that have tangible outcomes of that knowledge (such as the LHC) would have more impact. Manned missions to Mars would have more impact in my opinion. But I guess like Mark said, we will never know. I would just like to know if Hubble did anything more than make some smart folks a bit smarter?

  28. Francois Dufour

    @20

    “Isn’t it? Not a single one of the other hypothetical missions could do the PARTICULAR science JWST is capable of. It’s not a good point to mix apples and turnips. I repeat: it WOULD be a waste if its sunk, and no amount of handwaving about alternative explorer-class missions raking in lots of other science (but NOT what JWST promises) for the money isn’t a relevant argument.”

    This is not hand wringing, or comparing apples to turnips. JWST doesn’t do any of the particular science that these other missions would do, either. It isn’t a wonder machine. JWST will not improve upon things like astrometry, supernova nucleosynthesis, black hole science, neutron star science, etc. From my point of view, all it does is irrelevant to my field of research. With JWST, we would be massively improving NIR astronomy, while letting the rest of the EM spectrum go numb for possibly decades. The Hubble Space Telescope was in no small part so successful because of its association with the three other great observatories: Compton (gamma rays), Chandra (x rays) and Spitzer (MIR). JWST will not have anything to synergize with at other wavelengths, since its budget overruns killed those missions (IXO, etc).

    And the money has already been wasted. There is no point in considering it in a discussion over whether to continue funding the mission. You will not, no matter what, get it back, ever. The correct question is how much more money do you have to spend. At any point in its development, a mission should present competitive science for the remaining expenditure. The spend amount is immaterial. To do otherwise is the apex of bad management.

  29. Elmar_M

    There is one OBVIOUS place to get the money for the JWST from and that is the SLS which is a gigantic waste of money. A super heavy lift rocket without a mission and without the funds for a mission. The only mission that is even potentially fundable is ISS resuply and commercial providers can do that better, much cheaper and much sooner.
    For all these reasons, the SLS is an absolute waste of money and only serves as a multi billion dollar earmark for the states Alabama and Utah. Why certain senators from Texas and Florida keep supporting it, is beyond my understanding, as commercial space providers would bring more jobs and money to their states than the SLS will.
    The really bad thing is that money will be taken away from commercial crew and the commercial suborbital program to spend it on the SLS and JWST. By cutting funding for the SLS, plenty of money will be left for the JWST and commercial crew.
    So by all means talk to your senators and tell them to support CCDev and the JWST and cut the SLS!

  30. Janus

    Putting a price cap on science, research, and the pursuit of knowledge is the ultimate shortsightedness. Who cares how much it costs? NASA’s budget is less than 1% of the whole and people gripe because it costs too much. I guess cavemen like staying cavemen.

  31. John

    : Congress should fully fund NASA instead of starving it of needed assets.

    There is no such thing as fully funding a government program. The nature of government is that only by spending everything you have and overrunning your cost estimates do you get to keep your budget or get more money (as noted by Constellation and JWST, both had huge overruns under the assumption they would never be canceled and so would get more money).

    “The Bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding Bureaucracy”

  32. The money needed and more could be easily found just in the tremendous waste and fraud in both defense and entitlement spending, or by by making cuts in defense that would have no effect on capabilities. The problem is that few an either side of the isle, nor in the Whitehouse care much about science in general, and less about space. Nor is there much hope of change next election.

  33. Gus Snarp

    I don’t know about people not thinking about the malfunctioning mirror. To me it seemed to get a lot more press than the repair did. In fact, if it weren’t for this blog I would still primarily think of Hubble as the really expensive telescope that didn’t work. And I would not be at all surprised if the majority of Americans who do not have any particular interest in astronomy, space exploration, or astrophysics mainly think of Hubble as a very expensive screw up. And anyone thinking of that who hears that JWST will be far out of reach of any kind of help and must complete a complex unfolding process entirely on its own once it arrives there is bound to have doubts. It scares the peanuts out of me, but I still think we should try.

  34. Thixen

    Is that second pic on the post from the earthquake today? :P

  35. CB

    @ Bryan D

    Do all the contractors just use grossly conservative cost estimates to get the job?

    What they should be doing is say it’ll cost 15B and then finish at 8B and make everyone think you’re amazing.

    Yes, they low-ball when bidding, but then operate on a cost-plus basis. Which is exactly why this happens (in many other situations, I don’t know the details behind the JWST cost overruns). It would be stupid to claim 15B when you think the actual cost will be 8 because then you don’t get the job. Smart would be to claim 8B when you know it’s 15B because the 8B will get you the contract, and then you will get all 15B.

    It’d only make sense to over-estimate and then come in under if it was a cost-plus contract to begin with.

    Or better yet, have the contracts awarded based on binding bids. So if the contractor has cost overruns, they don’t get more money. It would encourage them not to have cost overruns.

    This is much more like how the COTS project is operating. NASA will be paying SpaceX a given amount of money to do supply runs to the ISS, and that’s it. If it costs SpaceX more than what they’re being paid, that’s their problem. This is as it should be.

  36. Dave

    @bigdaddyhen

    It looks like you’re looking for engineering benefits, not science benefits. Learning about the universe is quite clearly “actual science.” It doesn’t help us to build a better kind of paper clip, or make Tang or Velcro. (Nor does the LHC.) Some people argue that learning about our universe, where we come from, what else is out there, where we’re headed, etc., is among the most noble and inspiring of human enterprises. Some people disagree and want money spent only on things like cell phone research, HDTV research, biomedical research, etc., which produce gadgets that are fun or lifesaving. Gadget-making research like this could in principle lead to profit, and therefore shouldn’t need much if any government support anyway. Learning about the universe does not lead to monetary profit and would not be done by private industry. It needs to be publicly funded or not done at all.

    I certainly would not argue that the main benefit of astrophysics research is to know what to do if a big rock is headed our way. We unfortunately do not do enough of this kind of research, but this research would be comparatively very cheap relative to things like JWST, and JWST doesn’t help particularly for that kind of endeavor. If multibillion space observatories are to be justified, it’s in terms of scientific knowledge, which you do not call a “tangible” benefit and I’m inclined to agree that it’s not exactly tangible. However, I think that a cogent justification can still be made that will be compelling to many people (but not all, and maybe not you).

    Finally, more people might be inspired to build gadgets down the line if there is more inspiring science done. I don’t know that funding space telescopes is the most efficient way to inspire kids to be scientists and engineers, but it’s at least plausible.

  37. QuietDesperation

    I hear this so frequently, but exactly where the “waste” is is never specified.

    Then you aren’t paying attention. A Google search should find some examples if you *really* cared.

    Here in California there’s at least a weekly news story about state tax money being spent on some idiocy, or just simply unaccounted for. Things like a cash strapped school building a theater worthy of Broadway, the construction contracts going to people who are buddies of the local school board and politicians, or another school with a newly completed building that gets torn down before even opening and rebuilt on another part of the campus due to some administrator’s whim. And then the Progressives and their ilk stand around all butthurt and baffled people don’t want to cough up more cash. Ideology = religion. “We’re here to save you! Why do you reject us!”

    This stuff is going on all all day every day. If you don’t see it that’s your problem and your fault.

  38. Chief

    A lot of the government waste is the layers of process that is added on by lawyers to protect against every possible situation (of course you can’t), thus more bodies and paperwork to ensure that the process becomes a means to the end. Sounds like JWST has suffered from the same process. Maybe we need to start by firing the lawyers (of course this will empty out a lot of Washington DC.)

  39. andy

    JWST should have been killed a long time ago, before its budget overruns got nearly as bad as they have. A similar argument might also apply to the Mars Science Laboratory, another mission that has gone badly over budget. And this is a lot of money for a NIR-specific mission when we are lacking comparable capability in the rest of the spectrum.

    Too many missions, some of them which could have been operational by now for a fraction of this cost have already been lost. And as has been pointed out, sunk costs are not a good argument for continuing to throw money at this.

  40. Scott B

    So why, like in every business, when they give the ridiculous figure of $8.7B, don’t they come back and tell them to find a way to do it for $5B? And fire them if they don’t. Maybe have an independent auditor come in and find all the waste that’s making up the figure and clean it up. This shouldn’t be that difficult.

  41. Anchor

    “JWST doesn’t do any of the particular science that these other missions would do, either. It isn’t a wonder machine.”

    Has anyone said so?

    “JWST will not improve upon things like astrometry, supernova nucleosynthesis, black hole science, neutron star science, etc. From my point of view, all it does is irrelevant to my field of research.”

    Ah, I see.

  42. Doug Little

    And this is a lot of money for a NIR-specific mission when we are lacking comparable capability in the rest of the spectrum.

    Not in radio

  43. Dan

    Several people have asked how the science of JWST will pay off. That isn’t a simple question to answer.

    There is a sequence from science to new product being built. Observation, theory, confirmation of theory (or at least predictions match new observations, it is still a theory). And then you start on the applied science. The engineering. And that may not happen for years or decades after the initial science. For example: the early understanding of quantum mechanics was during the 1st half of the 20th century. Some applied applications came quickly (nuclear weapons). Others took longer (electron tunneling leads to transistors and to all modern consumer electronics).

    The wireless systems I work on are using theories and math that started in the 1920s leading to Shannon’s paper on the 1940s. We finally are building communications systems that approach the limits defined in that paper.

    Payoff from science can be very large. It can also take a long time.

    We don’t know what the engineering benefit from JWST will be. A new theory of everything based on JWST observations may result in a new energy source with no pollution. Or it may just result in a better understanding of the universe.

    I don’t know if we should finish JWST or not. I haven’t looked at the budget analysis yet to see why the overrun is so large (does it include operating costs for 10 years?).

    Dan

  44. MAN

    Sunk cost is sunk cost. All those who’ve said that should never be an argument are 100% right. Whether it’s how many billions you’ve already spent, or how many lives you’ve already lost in a war. Those are never reasons for continuing to do what hasn’t been working. The only relevant question is how much more will it take to achieve a goal.

    JWST has made that really difficult to understand, however. The JWST folk have been going around and arguing in the astro community (of which I am a part), “If we don’t get the money, *you* won’t get it back, so you should support us!” And they’ve been right about that – the money that would be saved would more than likely disappear from NASA entirely, in the name of budget reductions. Until now, that is, as we have hit something of a tipping point.

    It will cost $5.2 B to finish and run JWST for 5 years. Of that, probably the “effective” cost is $2 B. I.e., $3.2 B will be swallowed up in closing out contracts and general budget savings. But $1B is probably close to the 5 years of operating costs that NASA would be able to use elsewhere, and $1B is about what NASA is now asking the agency as a whole to swallow on behalf of JWST. The JWST folk no longer have the luxury of saying, “You won’t get this back, support us!” There’s some $2B on the table between now and 2023 (2018 + 5 years) that we are being asked to give over to JWST. That’s WFIRST, or whatever the next attempt of Con-X/IXO could be, or a whole bunch small to medium size explorer missions. And that’s assuming that there is *zero* error in the $8.7 B/2018 estimate. Anything beyond that continues to come out of the rest of NASA in a very real way.

    Then, there is the issue of the damage to the overall credibility of NASA that JWST is doing. Let’s remember that after the Hubble repair, there were/are a lot of NASA successes. WMAP, Swift, Kepler. Chandra, in itself a technical marvel, launched mostly on time and on budget. (It was a little over on both due to delays in the shuttle launches, but not really issues with the mission itself.) But the X-ray community hasn’t really gotten credit for that, and instead has been stung by the legacy of JWST.

    Con X went from 6 telescopes to 4 to 3 to 1, all to try and downscope to meet a skeptical NASA. Then got recast as IXO with European and Japanese involvement. And that got downscoped. And then its budget estimates got scrutinized in a way that JWSTs never did, and it got effectively cancelled for a lack of faith that it could be done on budget. All that was a reaction to the scar tissue left behind by JWST.

    The question we have to ask ourselves in the astro-community is, what is the line in the sand that needs to be crossed wherein we ourselves say, nope, that is too much. For our own sense of responsibility, and for the health of the whole, diverse community of astrophysics, what would be so far, that we ourselves say, “Yes, we screwed up, we have to cut our losses, and as painful as it may be, cancel JWST.”?

    The truth is, nearly all of us knew this 2018 date for the past 10 months. This the first time it has been formally admitted in public. We did *not* know this $8.7 B number. That’s about $1.2 B more than I was expecting to hear.

    For me, prior to these announcements, my line in the sand was $1.5 B (about the proposed cost of WFIRST) beyond what I expected to be $6.5 B (plus an additional $1B over 5 years of operations) and/or slipping into 2020. (The latter date would mean that JWST seriously affected the deliberations of *three* NASA decadal reports – 2000, 2010, 2020 – that much continued uncertainty is not healthy for the field.) This $300 M, two years shy of my own line in the sand. I do not have faith they won’t tiptoe, or leap over, that line in the very near future.

    I think it’s time in the astro community to admit that it is *not* anti-science to have a serious discussion now whether it’s really in our best interest to go forward with JWST.

  45. Pat

    Had I an improbable belief system, a seat in congress, and the choice to eliminate something that might invalidate those beliefs, I’d try to kill it as well. I have none of those, so I will just leave this comment. (of course I also understand the importance of putting shrimp on treadmills).

  46. Louis

    Unfortunately the planners of the JWST really missed the mark on this one. Had they included a death ray option and sold it as a military asset there would be no problem with dollars. However, it is “just” science and doesn’t kill anything. As a scientist who once worked in the aerospace industry I’m truly sick and tired of the sacrosanct military budget where it is just fine to build billion dollar bombers by the score and not even blink an eye. Eisenhower was right back at the end of his term warning about the Military/Industrial complex. There is no excuse for not funding the JWST fully and also no excuse for NASA to play the cost overrun game with the contractors. And while I’m on my soapbox, with new bombers costing so much, is there ANY reason why we couldn’t cut a few, fund the JWST and at the same time make certain that no person in the US ever goes hungry. Shame on you America. Shame on you.

  47. Dennis

    Clinton belatedly tried to save the SCSC which was canceled for the very reasons that are threatening JWST. He asked Congress to continue “to support this important and challenging effort” through completion because “abandoning the SSC at this point would signal that the United States is compromising its position of leadership in basic science”. The US lost the lead in high-energy physics (CERN’s LHC) and is in the process of losing the lead in astrophysics as well (JWST, E-ELT). Time for the US to collaborate as “true partners” on these large projectss

  48. Sir Eccles

    What good is it?

    What good is a newborn baby?

  49. I some people trying to reduce this to a “# citations per $” quantised equation. One problem with that; Hubble, with it’s vast number of academic and popular-press citations, was a megaproject the way that the Webb is. I don’t think it always comes down to “small = beautiful” even in the naive case.

    Also, I don’t see a way to use microprojects to generate the same results as the Webb could. Is there a way to do low-temperature IR telescopy on the “Spirit/Opportunity” model? If so, then we have an argument for killing off the Webb. If not, then the argument for killing it off becomes a lot more complicated.

    That being said, I am worried that NASA could squander that much money. Perhaps instead of killing off the roots they need to prune the upper branches a bit more closely…

    — Steve

  50. Julie

    @Lynxreign (7)

    I used to work as a contractor for a federal gov’t agency, as an IT person, and I saw numerous examples of waste. The one I cite most is a case of where we’d used a particular software program for 8 years– it worked great, and cost about $20,000 a year in licensing to continue to use it. A new director at a different office (but who oversaw our office states away) came in and decided we were going to go with an entirely different software package to do the same thing. In the 3 years that this went on while I was there, we were spending $15million a year on the software, plus new hardware that we were forbidden to touch until the software company sent a vendor out to do the initial install (which required us replacing the hardware twice, as it had gotten sufficiently outdated in the interim to not be useful– about $100K), and it never did work as well as the original software– which we were still paying the $20K in licensing for every year, as we needed it until the new one came into service.

    There were also several people in our office who never did a lick of work in the time I worked there who were getting paid in the $50-75K/year range. As it’s almost impossible to fire a government employee, they could get away with doing nothing all day long. It was probably about 1% of the office staff, but multiply that across all government agencies across the country, and that 1% of salaries can really add up. As QuietDesperation (37) says, the waste is there, and it’s going on all day every day.

  51. Magrathea

    Can anyone explain to me in layman’s terms WHY is that project always over ballooning like that? If I had pojects like that under My helm you can be sure that heads would be rolling.

    I mean, its a space telescope and yes it’s huge… but 8.x BILLIONS? Is that thing made of solid gold?

  52. Chris

    How about selling it to China. I’m sure the Chinese would be happy to have a major scientific instrument up there.

  53. Francois Dufour

    @49
    “Is there a way to do low-temperature IR telescopy on the “Spirit/Opportunity” model?”

    No, not on the scale the the JWST would. But let me ask this, what is so special about the JWST science? Is it sacred in a way that all other astrophysics isn’t? Because with JWST eating 50% of NASA astrophysics for years to come, it’s all other astrophysics that suffers.

    @42
    “Not in radio”

    There are other examples of this. For instance, the ESA is making leaps and bounds in microwave cosmology and THz astronomy (Planck and Hershel), are building a WFIRST-like mission (Euclid), they are currently studying a replacement of NASA’s RXTE with LOFT (a proposal for the ESA Cosmic Vision M3 mission), they are continuing to study LISA and IXO -like missions, etc. India is building ASTROSAT with UV, x-ray, x-ray timing and hard x-ray capability, Japan is building (with 35M$ from NASA and some CSA participation) ASTRO-H with x-ray and hard x-ray telescopes, Germany and Russia will soon be launching Spektrum Gamma-Roentgen with the eROSITA x-ray survey telescope, etc. The problem with this is that most of these will have either completely proprietary data or long proprietary data periods, meaning that US astronomers will not get much out of them.

    In the meantime, only *three* NASA missions are planned for astrophysics this side of 2020: NuSTAR (120M$, 2012), GEMS (120M$, ~2014) and JWST (8700M$, 2018++). Does that perchance illustrate part of the problem? NASA astrophysics is currently only able to spare mere scraps apart from JWST. Plus the complete disasters that are SOFIA and AMS. NASA is currently running on old and aging missions : RXTE (to be shut down in December), Swift, Chandra, Fermi, Kepler, Warm Spitzer, Hubble. There needs to be extremely deep changes in the way that NASA approves and contracts missions. The way things stand, NASA will lose its dominance in space astrophysics within a decade.

  54. Chief

    China would strip it down, pull the interesting science data out of it, launch it and use it to spy on the rest of the world to get more science data. Doubt it would point the in the intended direction.

  55. Doug Little

    Can anyone explain to me in layman’s terms WHY is that project always over ballooning like that?

    I would presume that there are a lot of technological firsts to overcome which obviously are extremely hard to predict accurately in terms of cost and time as they haven’t been done before. Or to put it another way, the greater the number of unknowns the harder it is to develop an accurate cost analysis.

  56. dimethylethyltoluene

    With a budget of 18 billion, they can whistle for it. NASA has yet to make any meaningful contribution to the quality of life of Americans. It’s basically a giant tinker toy for scientists, that has yet to yield the least practical application to life on Earth. NASA and the DOD (with the DOD heading towards nearly a trillion EACH YEAR) have both become accustomed to very easy living, also DARPA (what, you’ve never heard of DARPA?…..suggest, then, that you enlighten yourself), with relatively little to show for it to those of us who are confined to the real world. Nix. And nix again. Bag it and tag it.

  57. Doug Little

    The problem with this is that most of these will have either completely proprietary data or long proprietary data periods, meaning that US astronomers will not get much out of them

    I’m confused, is there some commercial worth to the data? Call me naive, but I wasn’t aware that data was being withheld from other missions that originate from outside the country, that’s not how science is done. What is the motivation to withhold data, how do you go about the process of peer review if the data that papers are based upon is not freely available?

  58. Francois Dufour

    @56

    “I’m confused, is there some commercial worth to the data? Call me naive, but I wasn’t aware that data was being withheld from other missions that originate from outside the country, that’s not how science is done. What is the motivation to withhold data, how do you go about the process of peer review if the data that papers are based upon is not freely available?”

    It is quite a common practice for the data to remain proprietary for some time. That is meant to give the time for the observer to write his paper(s) and then let it go into an archive some time afterwards. For reference, the latter part did not use to happen until somewhat recently.

    As an example, on Chandra a GO observation is proprietary for 12 months, I think it’s about the same for XMM-Newton. Some missions have had notably worse politics on this, especially the German ROSAT all-sky survey, which kept its data private for 8 years or so (which makes me worry about the german eROSITA doing the same), the ESA’s Planck is also holding the data until publication. Some others are immediately public (RXTE, Chandra DDT, etc).

    Others are problematic, to say the least, eg. Kepler which was supposed to be immediately public data but held up the archival of the data until science team papers got published.

    On the other side, all new NASA missions are supposed to have public data (see the Kepler example above) as soon as the data’s integrity can be assessed. This is why data from Fermi is immediately public, so is RXTE data and NuSTAR will have a 2 months hold to verify data.

  59. andy

    Even on the exoplanet front JWST does not look particularly promising. While it would certainly provide valuable data, most of the missions that would have provided a good target list for this have disappeared into the budgetary black hole. SIM-Lite anyone?

    (And yes I am aware of Kepler, but unfortunately those planets are typically located far too far away to provide much opportunity for follow-up.)

  60. David B.

    A repeated refrain on the JWST is “can we afford to waste what we’ve spent?”

    But unless that expenditure couldn’t be afforded to begin with, in which case the money shouldn’t have been spent in the first place, this is just another way of asking which gives the better return, finishing and launching it, or canning the whole thing and holding a fire sale?

    The James Webb, like the Hubble before it, would be capable of things no other instrument can currently match, but that may be equally true of the projects that will be cut or never launch if their funding went to the JWST. Even getting the best scientific value out of the science budget isn’t automatically going to favour completing it. Automatically assuming that we can’t afford not to launch it is just short-sighted, the JWST needs to be able to justify any further expenditure, and in any such argument I’m afraid past expenditure is only going to count against it.

    We’ve just had a nice example of such a go/no-go scenario with HP’s Touchpad. HP canned a product that cost millions to develop, and hundreds of millions to produce, after just a few months because in their analyses the return was not there. Their subsequent decision to liquidate the stock at a swingeing loss (perhaps as much as $200 a unit) has caused a stampede to buy a top-flight tablet at rock-bottom price. It may very turn out that the sudden influx of webOS users will save HP’s investment in the platform by dramatically lifting their revenue from their app store.

    So in this case it certainly seems that cutting the project might have been the best course of action, irrespective of the money already spent.

  61. Francois Dufour

    @55
    “I would presume that there are a lot of technological firsts to overcome which obviously are extremely hard to predict accurately in terms of cost and time as they haven’t been done before. Or to put it another way, the greater the number of unknowns the harder it is to develop an accurate cost analysis.”

    Which is why there is a technology readiness study done on space missions, rating all technologies required on a 0-10 readiness scale (10 being already flown successfully in space). Why the JWST spacecraft readiness assessment failed so spectacularly was part of the objective of the Casani Report, if I remember correctly.

  62. Doug Little

    @57 Thanks for the reply, even if the data is held for a year or so that’s not too problematic, 8 years on the other hand… I see your concern. It would be ideal if all data from all projects was immediately available as soon as it was validated, but I can understand giving the scientists that are part of the project first crack at the data. In the end as long as the science is done it shouldn’t matter where or who does it.

  63. Joe

    Even though NASA happens to be a bureaucracy that I like the fact remains that it’s still a government bureaucracy and is incredibly inefficient. Without a driving prime incentive like a JFK speech it’s impractical that they will operate efficiently because they have no reason to do so other than their love for science. While that is an admirable and sorely needed motive it’s not enough to make NASA economically viable. While it deeply saddens me to say so, I believe NASA is going the way of the dodo for now, until something similar to the Space Race propels it forward once again or the private sector can take up some of the logistical burden (i.e. LEO runs and space station maintenance).

  64. Brian Too

    Who says that $8.7 billion will be the final number?

    I hate to say it, but the JWST is looking more and more like an out-of-control project. This is 10X the original budget! Even factoring in the “organizational politics” and “new technology development”, this is more than excessive. And let’s face more facts, 2018 isn’t just around the corner, it’s 7 years out. That’s a lot of time for more “unanticipated scenarios” and “black swan events” to occur yet.

    Also, like any cutting edge project, there is the possibility that JWST will not work, either well or at all.

    The current projection is that the money needed isn’t even half spent yet. I think I want to throw up. This is not the news NASA needed in this fiscal environment.

  65. Nic

    Can the US afford to p*** off international partners? Many millions have been spent on the project outside of the US, (I read something about a British camera for Webb recently, that is already pretty much ready to go) – cancel it, and will your partners ever work with you again? An Ariane 5 is I believe slated to launch this – NOT a US rocket, if it gets canned how will Arianespace think about working indirectly with the US government again? US government funding does faff (mess about, take too long) incredibly.. (My own (British) government faffs too, probably more so but with less cash…)

    N

  66. Astro1Boy2000

    NASA’s Great Observatories have changed our view of the Universe in ways we couldn’t imagine 20 years ago. JWST builds on these successes by providing astronomy with a new capability; unprecedented sensitivity and resolution over a broad wavelength spectrum extending from the red-optical to the NIR. The telescope will be over a hundred times more sensitive than Hubble, and will provide crisp, diffraction-limited images of astronomical sources extending from the nearby Solar System to the high redshift Universe. JWST’s science capabilities will provide a new leap forward in many topics in astrophysics that we can demonstrate now, not to mention, the amazing discovery space that it will open up. In fact, most of the science cases for JWST have grown stronger over time (e.g., exoplanet atmosphere characterization) and the mission is the cornerstone of the 2010 Astronomy Decadal Survey. No other mission being planned by NASA or ESA will support thousands of astronomers the way JWST will.

    I agree that the costs of the mission have escalated, but, NASA has taken steps to address the faults. The management structure of the project has been changed, contracts have been restructured, and contingency has been set aside to avoid work being pushed off. Lets keep in mind that Hubble cost us more than $10B in today’s dollars, but has been worth every penny. JWST is the next generation’s Hubble, and promises to not only deliver unprecedented science, but to inspire the public.

  67. Jon

    NASA has reliably demonstrated its ability to (pick one or more: lie, misestimate, underdeliver) on its promises for decades, not just with the manned space infrastructure but with premier science missions like Cassini / CRAF (you don’t recall CRAF? That’s because it was cancelled when the mission pair ran over their budget cap in the early 90s). “Fully funding” NASA the way they currently operate is an open invitation to more of the same. The cost of JWST now exceeds the entire NSF budget for FY 2012, and IMO it deserves to be cancelled as a consequence.

  68. Messier Tidy Upper

    There is, of course, an obvious solution: Congress should fully fund NASA instead of starving it of needed assets. [Emphasis original.]

    Seconded & fully agreed by me. :-)

    That’s what I think should have been done for the Constellation lunar return program too. :-(

    Some things are worth doing however much they cost. Investing in science and space technology, exploration and development is in that class.

    I’m an unashamed, ardent NASA fan. NASA is the only group that has ever landed humans on our Moon. It has taken us further, shown us more and has a better record of achievement than any national or private space agency in history. NASA has done so much good for the United States of America and Humanity as a whole. It exemplifies America’s finest principles and people, it is humanity’s pride going in peace for all of us where none have gone before. It deserves, methinks, our full support and all the funds it needs to achieve the wonders and win us all the knowldde and joy that it can, has and does deliver.

    NASA is also, appallingly in my view, chronically underfunded and I think under-appreciated both at home and abroad. :-(

    I hope that situation improves. I hope we see the James Webb SpaceTelescope launched. I hope we start making progress in space and space technology and exploring further into our cosmic home again.

    I wish I could say that I was optimistic that we will. :-(

    ****

    “Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”
    – Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight.

    “Earth will benefit in the end,[from Space Exploration specifically terraforming Venus] and not just because there’s a new world to go to, but because of what we’ll learn.”
    – Page 237, ‘Venus of Dreams’, Pamela Sargent, Bantam, 1986.

    “We had our hands on spaceships and we learned how to make them increasingly safer and then Washington pulled the plug. … One half of one percent of the federal budget funds NASA and they can’t afford this program?”
    – Gregory Cecil, Space Shuttle tile technician quoted on page 47, “Throttle down” article in ‘Air & Space’ magazine, Nov 2010.

  69. Astroboy

    @7 “I hear this so frequently, but exactly where the “waste” is is never specified.”

    Where to start, where to start? I work for a NASA contractor, I have been involved with at least one of the Astrophysics programs that have been mentioned here (not JWST). JPL, our direct customer, had some concerns about the wire harnesses in our spacecraft. Now, there is no question that wire harnesses can be very complicated with miles upon miles of wire. However, most of their concerns could have been easily addressed with a few telecons. Their approach? Send 7 (yes 7!) JPL engineers across the country to our facility for a two day harness summit. Would you be terribly surprised that most of the 7 just sat quietly while only 1 or 2 talked? Need another example? I worked on a proposal with a NASA center bidding on a mission and convincing everyone that their instrument is at a prototype stage (TRL 6 or 7, for those who know). Of course, NASA HQ selected the NASA center mission. As we started work on the spacecraft it became apparent that the instrument was nowhere nearly as mature as advertised. This of course resulted in continuous and ongoing redesigns to the spacecraft to accommodate the evolving design of the instrument. Do you think that comes for free?

    Mind you – I’ve focused on waste directly at NASA. As JWST proves (as do some of the programs in my own company) there is plenty of waste at contractors as well. Simply put the system is not set up to incentivize efficiency.

  70. Ricky

    I don’t understand why the military budget is so untouchable. The US is working hard to pad someone’s pocket.

  71. Spaceman13

    Yes, JWST may do amazing and incredible science — if it works. But what if it doesn’t? Our track record on great observatories working out of the box is 3 and 1 (the failure being Hubble, of course). We were fortunate that Hubble could be fixed by the astronauts. JWST cannot have any astronaut servicing (and if you believe we will have the capability to send astronauts to the sun-earth L2, I have a space elevator to sell you). Is a 25% risk of failure worth the investment required (even if you ignore sunk costs?).

    Mind you, I have the same concern about Mars Science Lab. Mars missions have also had a poor track record. The days of faster/cheaper/better were great. We could do 3 rovers, 2 landers, 3 orbiters – some failed, but others were able to carry out great science. Now we are back in flagship mission mode. If MSL fails, kiss the Mars program goodbye for the next decade!

  72. Messier Tidy Upper

    @48. Sir Eccles :

    What good is it?
    What good is a newborn baby?

    Quote from Enrico Fermi (???) I believe?

    The other oft cited answer to that, I gather, is that he’s not sure but he’ll bet that in twenty (?) years the government will be taxing it. ;-)

  73. Messier Tidy Upper

    I find advertising as annoying as the next person – probably more even – but could sponsorship help?

    Would it be possible for NASA to accept corporate logos and sponsorship if it provides the JWST with a chance to fly? Or is that forbidden or not an option for some reason?

  74. Gilead

    I was in favour of retaining the JWST program until the news of these most recent estimates. Now I’m thoroughly against it. This gluttonous hog of a project would eat the entire astrophysics budget and seemingly still remain hungry for more. The cost to complete and the mission operations costs are totally outrageous.

    It’s so outrageous in fact that NASA should be punished. They should be made to feel some consequences resulting from this outrage. This has nothing to do with the cancellation – that’s purely a matter of cost / benefit. The money freed by the cancellation should be returned only partly to the NASA budget. The rest should go instead to biomedical research. The U.S. needs goodwill, and nothing says goodwill like “Research funded by the U.S. government saved [me | my child] from misery and death. ” We need biomedical research in the public interest. This doesn’t compete against private research but rather enables it with a common body of freely accessible technology.

  75. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Gilead :

    I was in favour of retaining the JWST program until the news of these most recent estimates. Now I’m thoroughly against it.

    Which has me wondering : Are those estimates actually right and credible or are they exaggerated or done with an agenda in mind?

    I don’t know, I’m just thinking here but they do seem so “outrageously” different from previous figures that it possibly suggests maybe a lot more is going on than we realise here? Who came up with these recent estimates and can they be trusted to be fair and accurate here?

    Depressing but nicely put together and powerful summary here :

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/08/are_we_watching_nasa_astrophys.php

    of the current situation regarding the JWST and comparisons to what’s happened in US particle physics.

    Too many people forget too quickly that space -that science – is an investment that has unquantifiable but often huge returns.

    Unlike other real “wastes of money” that should be cut instead.

    BTW. have the banks paid back their bail-out money yet? Are they going to?

  76. CCC

    You are nuts to support JWST. You don’t realize how fat this program has made morons at the prime contractor. They have wasted huge money with incompetent managers in charge. Continue the program, continue the farce, while other programs starve. It won’t be $8.7B either, just watch. Give JWST about a 25% chance to actually work on orbit too. Kill the poor thing, mismanaged for most if its life…

  77. Messier Tidy Upper

    51. Magrathea Says: “I mean, its a space telescope and yes it’s huge… but 8.x BILLIONS? Is that thing made of solid gold?”

    Nah. Too heavy.(Did you know : Gold weighs more than lead.) ;-)

    It may have some gold foil on it though because as Bova notes :

    “Gold is an outstanding heat insulator, many spacecraft have been gold-plated, not as a symbol of extravagance but because a thin layer of gold is the most efficient way to keep the spacecraft from overheating … [snip] .. When human explorers head out toward the stars, they will bring gold and diamonds with them – not only as personal adornments, but as practical and efficient materials for their starships as well.”
    – Page 320, Bova, ‘The Story of Light’, Sourcebooks Inc., 2001.

    Although I don’t know whether this is specifically the case for the JWST or not.

    @50. Julie :

    @Lynxreign (7) I used to work as a contractor for a federal gov’t agency, as an IT person, and I saw numerous examples of waste. .. [Snip] .. There were also several people in our office who never did a lick of work in the time I worked there who were getting paid in the $50-75K/year range. As it’s almost impossible to fire a government employee, they could get away with doing nothing all day long.

    Yes, there’s a lot of the problem. Get rid of the incompetent managers, the lazy workers and those who make things harder rather than easier. Heads should roll but as (#20) BJN has noted, it should be a case of keep the project – which is worth doing – but ditch those who have messed it up so badly and been responsible for the over-runs & mismanagement so far.

    @20. BJN :

    Cutting the project as “punishment” only punishes this country. Our collective prestige and ability to innovate are what will suffer, and we’ll all be poorer for the science discoveries that won’t be made. The rational way to deal with mismanagement is to change the managers, not flush your investment down the toilet.

    Very well said and seconded by me.

    @42. Doug Little :

    “And this is a lot of money for a NIR-specific mission when we are lacking comparable capability in the rest of the spectrum.”
    Not in radio
    [Link to Spektr-R’s wikipedia page.]

    Hmm.. thanks for that. :-)

    Spektr-R[2] (or Radioastron) is a Russian orbital radio telescope, and currently the largest space telescope in orbit.[3] It is funded by the Russian Astro Space Center, and was launched into Earth orbit on 18 July 2011

    – Wiki-page cited by #42 Doug Little.

    Impressive. I don’t recall hearing much about that one at all.

    After the fall of the Soviet Empire, it’s kind of (..is ironic the right word .. astrounding maybe?) sad (?) to see how far Russia seems to have overtaken the US. Russia can take cosmonauts -and the US astronauts into space aboardits rockets. Amercia can’t. Russia has the largest space telescope. Americans where is your pride? How can you let this happen?

  78. DigitalAxis

    The problems I see with JWST are manifold:

    1.) It’s hideously expensive, because someone in NASA’s upper echelons decided it Had To Happen, and thus its success or failure was never seriously considered until the budget started growing completely out of control. Whoever decided to pitch it as the successor to Hubble was a very smart person. I also wonder if it was started by NASA’s upper management wanting to make Hubble 2, and THEN asking scientists what they wanted for the super-duper new space satellite, rather than having scientists approach NASA with a specific goal in mind.

    2.) It’s in the IR only. Apparently it once included UV and optical capabilities like Hubble, but those were cut.
    2a.) JWST is really the successor to Spitzer (or Herschel).
    2b.) There are MANY IR observatories up at the moment, because IR is the current flavor of the month. If you want UV, it’s Galex or nothing. UV apparently went out with the IUE satellite. Chasing the same ball is bad in soccer, and it’s also bad for cross-discipline synergies (if you can call IR vs X-ray vs radio “cross-discipline”) in astronomy.
    2c.) BECAUSE of the IR wavelengths it uses, JWST will have a limited lifespan. When the cryogen runs out, it might be able to continue operating in its bluest wavelengths like Warm Spitzer is doing, but… its prime reason for existing will be over.

    3.) It’s not going to orbit the Earth. This also has to do with the IR wavelengths it uses, but I’m making a separate point out of it because: There will be no cryogen resupply. There will be no replacing equipment if it breaks or someone builds a better one. The spacecraft has to unfurl itself because the mirror is too big to fit into a rocket! If that fails, we lose $8.7 billion right there. Galileo space probe, anyone?

    4.) Because of the limited duration of the mission, the chances of a junior scientist like me actually getting time on it are low. (Archival data will be plentiful, but there’s less control over what you get) Hubble isn’t easy at all, but at least it’s been around for 21 years and will continue for a while yet: there’s a greater chance to distribute the impact. The best way I can think of is getting some JWST fellowship.

    The sad thing is, there ARE some missions that have to be enormous to be useful at all- LISA comes to mind. I have no real idea how gravity waves work or how they have to build the detectors, but I know enough to accept the idea that IF they ever want to detect gravity waves, they WILL have to spend a lot of money on the equipment. JWST does not exactly inspire that kind of acceptance. Maybe I need to read up more.

    The REALLY sad thing is, I suspect if NASA cuts JWST to save $5.7 billion, they will be rewarded with a $5.7 billion budget cut in the next congressional cycle. JWST will be replaced by NOTHING, and EVERYONE in the astronomical community will lose. Right now, so many things NASA are attached to JWST that scientists are attaching themselves to JWST because it’s basically the only thing going. Yeah, I suppose this is a ‘too big to fail’ argument, but that’s only if Congress follows up with cutting NASA’s budget further. And I bet they will…

    @75. Gilead:
    Your comment saddens me, because I want to see the $8.7 billion go back into those other programs that were cancelled (some of them at the construction phase). The parts of NASA that were responsible for JWST bloating deserve punishment, but the rest don’t.

    @ Everyone complaining of waste:
    Yes, there’s waste, obviously. I’ve seen it in the stupid time-wasting tricks they make academics jump through to get funding (quarterly progress reports? Some observing programs won’t have results for YEARS). Part of that waste is also NASA commissioning all sorts of studies and funding people to work on spacecraft design and mission profiles for 20 years, then cutting the project right before anything is actually built.
    But really, my best argument about the waste is: If it’s endemic to the government and bureaucracies as a whole, why single out NASA? Why does NASA have to be so much better than every other administration? You should demand this of the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation… ’cause I’m sure a lot of NASA’s useless dead weight comes from above, just like all those other agencies.

  79. DigitalAxis

    @71 Ricky:

    I’m sure this is a rhetorical question, but it sure seems to be a lot easier to scare people with WE NEED 500 STATE OF THE ART BOMBERS OR THE TERRORISTS WILL MURDER YOUR BABIES than inspire them with the as-yet-unconceived wonders of the universe.

    Besides, defense contractors have a lot more money to do lobbying (which they hopefully got from the government in the first place) and have manufacturing of some kind in every state. Instant access to politicians!

  80. Timothy from Boulder

    I’ll reiterate two points I made before about the expectation of returned science should JWST proceed and the perceived waste should JWST be cancelled. These points are rarely factored into any agrument.

    1) Funding JWST through launch does not guarantee that the anticipated science and astronomical supremacy will be achieved. JWST is a tremendously complex optical system and any number of mechanism failures can render the telescope useless. Because of its L2 point orbit, repair is impossible. While NASA has had a number of successes recently, it has had its share of mission failures as well. While we all hope for the best, spending the money on a single large program does not guarantee success, which most proponents take as a given.

    2) If the program is cancelled, the entirety of program funding is not “wasted.” Just as other have pointed out the auxilliary benefits of other space programs, the work already done on JWST has revolutionized the technological capabilities to manufacture ultralightweight beryllium mirrors and the techniques to perform phase control on multiple mirror systems, as well as numerous technological advances in lightweight structures and deployment. There are doubtless hundreds of other similar advances that have already been paid for and developed. That money is not lost, the technologies have been invented and refined and are a part of the total benefit the program provides. In addition, contrary to popular belief, cancelling the program does not mean putting $3.5B of hardware on a shelf to collect dust. A large portion of that money has gone to keep scientists, engineers, and vendors employed, returning the money to the economy.

  81. MarcusBailius

    Approximate US debt: 14 trillion dollars
    Approximate cost of JWST: 8 billion dollars

    That’s about 0.06%.

    Hmm… A billion here, a billion there: Pretty soon, you’re talking serious money. Most people don’t get this either, that a billion is only one fourteen-thousandth of the financial problem the US faces. It will take some major effort to deal with that!

    The point is, it’s not NASA that is the primary problem in the US regarding its debt. However, NASA is highly visible, and when it comes time to tighten belts, and (for example) the huge defence budget is regarded as sacrosanct, and the amounts of tax paid by people and corporations cannot be increased (judgements which are almost certainly wrong – raising less in tax than a Government spends is patently stupid in the long term), then this is where the first cuts go.

  82. Mark Nylund

    From what I’ve been able to glean from the various commentaries (haven’t found the Mikulski report yet) it’s not so much a cost overrun as an initial underestimate. Which would piss me off too, reeking of a technological bait and switch. This device required engineering and redundancy magnitudes greater than Hubble. It is supposed to run unattended for 5 years far away from any protection the earth’s magnetosphere provides to LEO satellites. There is no possibility for house calls, as has been done several times for Hubble.

    I also wonder what portion of the inflated estimate represents operational costs. My understanding is the major components have been built. Like any machine, the operating expenses must be figured into the cost. If the price includes analysis/processing of raw data then this is the first thing that should be shopped to other parties, even if NASA loses the glam of sole authorship.

  83. Ari

    Sorry Folks,

    You need to read what was included in the “New” estimate. It is NOT apples-apples with the old one as the release incicated it is Total Lifetime Cost (Including Launcher and Operations). Past estimates (and most missions) include only the spacecraft (no launcher, no operations).

    I have not seen the latest numbers but Hubbles Total Cost since inception in today’s dollars would be just as shocking.

  84. Gunnar

    Even the government programs designed to reduce waste turn out to be wasteful sometimes. I remember that when I was in the Air Force, they instituted a program to reduce or eliminate redundant or unnecessary official forms and paperwork. They also required that every unit and office report and document their compliance with the paperwork reduction program on newly created forms devised for that purpose, which resulted in the paperwork and man hours generated by the reporting requirements just about equaling (if not exceeding) the paperwork and man hours saved.

  85. Das Boese

    The thing that sucks most in all of this is the hypocrisy.
    Your Congress talks about shutting down JWST for cost overruns, while at the same they direct NASA to build a $38billion (lowball estimate) super-heavy lift rocket called the SLS that has no clearly defined need except as a jobs program, and the useless Orion capsule that’s heralded as the future of deep space exploration, except it’s woefully inadequate for anything except a short stint to the Moon.

  86. Al

    Wow, that got a response! Science-oriented folks arguing about which projects are more important while we spend trillions killing people half a world away. The hawks and anti-science people must be smirking big-time. I appreciate that Lynxreign put “defense” in quotes. Defending us against loss of gigantic corporate profits?

  87. Bruce

    One should note – and this is very important – that a substantial fraction of that most recentcost increase is associated with delays in the launch that are being forced by Congress. If the mission launched in 2015 or 2016, which is practical technically, cost would be about $6-7B, but the amount of money required per year in 2012-2015 would be higher. Launching in 2018 reduces the cost per year but increases total mission cost, as you have to keep paying for facilities, some staff, etc., over a longer period (it’s pretty much always true that costs go up when you stretch a program to save money per year.)

  88. Bruce

    Digitial Axis writes

    “2c.) BECAUSE of the IR wavelengths it uses, JWST will have a limited lifespan. When the cryogen runs out, it might be able to continue operating in its bluest wavelengths like Warm Spitzer is doing, but… its prime reason for existing will be over.”

    This is in fact completely wrong. JWST has no cryogens – it’s passively cooled.

    And it’s not infrared in the far-infrared sense of Spitzer – just slightly-longer-than-visible infrared – and operates much warmer than Spitzer does. It really is fair to describe it as much more like HST – many-megapixel detectors with a decently wide field and diffraction-limited modes, imaging spectrographs, coronagraphs – than like Spitzer, which has far-IR detectors with a tiny field of view, limited resolution, etc.

  89. Neil

    Quiet Desperation #37

    “Here in California there’s at least a weekly news story about state tax money being spent on some idiocy, or just simply unaccounted for. Things like a cash strapped school building a theater worthy of Broadway, the construction contracts going to people who are buddies of the local school board and politicians, or another school with a newly completed building that gets torn down before even opening and rebuilt on another part of the campus due to some administrator’s whim. And then the Progressives and their ilk stand around all butthurt and baffled people don’t want to cough up more cash. Ideology = religion. “We’re here to save you! Why do you reject us!”

    This stuff is going on all all day every day. If you don’t see it that’s your problem and your fault.”

    Citations, please? Or are you just another one of millions of conservatives who are nothing but worthless liars, intent on destrotying everything that public projects can achieve on the holy altar of the free market, even in areas where the free market fails spectacularly? Talk about ideology! Please show me ONE school building that was built, and then torn down and rebuilt on NOTHING BUT THE WHIM OF A SINGLE ADMINISTRATOR. Even if you can find one honest example (which I doubt) please explain how one bad decision is somehow an indictment of ALL government, as you seem to be very dishonestly implying here.

    Also, I happen to work at a high school that is now, for a variety of reasons, short of cash, in a district that keeps laying off teachers and cancelling art programs while looking for no other solutions. I work in the theater that is on campus. It is a beautiful fully modern theater, and cost about 10 million dollars to build. The district has great performing arts programs, and at least one school in ther district needed to have a good theater, which also serves as a professional quality community theater as many public and private college campuses have. This was achieved through a public/private partnership, where the bulk of the money came from private donors over a collection period of almost ten years. The school district, (or horrible, evil, tyrannical government if you prefer) chipped in the unused land on a corner of the campus and a small amount of the funding, less than what it would have cost to build even a modest building, and now owns & helps maintain the theater, in concert with a non-profit org. As a result, our community has a fully modern, yes, Broadway worthy theater at a bare minimum cost to the taxpayers. It functions as a venue for school plays and talent shows, local theater groups, speaking engagements, memorial services, public events of all kinds and we also, like colleges, bring in educational programs and high-quality touring shows. Because concerned and enthusiastic INDIVIDUALS were willing to work WITH local government, instread of being nothing but disgusting lying crybabies like you, our community has a wonderful resource, and a vibrant, community-wide, continuing arts program that simply would not have happened without both private and public resources and involvement.

    THIS is what progressives do, and jerks like you will always lie, lie, and lie some more to destroy it all, just because of your irrational fear of anything that is accomplished with communal resources instead of relying solely on your mythical magic bootstraps.

    Get bent, Superman- you’re useless and irrelevant, and so is your dishonest dogma.

  90. Neil

    I apologize for going so far off topic, but sometimes I just have to respond to political whharrgarbliing, rather than allow it to go unanswered.

    When it comes to any issue of public spending, government involvement, or global warming, the comments on BA look like a Fark.com thread…lots of strong, fact-free opinions, lots of poorly researched anti-government whining, a great sudden surge of “skepticism”, selectively applied only to any and all government enterprises, and several dozen pairs of badly sewn, old, smelly, size 20 libertarian clown shoes.

  91. Bill

    Have you noticed how many of the news reports on JWST cost overruns use an image of a technician behind a 1/6 SCALE MODEL instead of the real thing?
    Obviously implying that we aren’t getting much bang for the buck.
    See for example:
    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_boosts_Webb_telescope_cost_to_87_billion_999.html
    Here is the original model image with caption:
    http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/images_mirror20.html

  92. Yes, this sounds like the Superconducting Supercollider. Read Massive, by Ian Sample, which is a truly excellent book on the history of particle physics. He covers the Supercollider quite thoroughly, and the mistake the US made is quite clear. Reagan went abroad to ask for international contributions to the SSC, but failed to get any because he was unwilling to make it an international project. He wanted it to be purely a US project, but with international help. The LHC right now truly is an international effort, which is why it is up and running right now and the SSC is just a forgotten partially dug tunnel.

    So why is NASA doing the same with the JWST? Seriously, why does the JWST has to be a US only project? Just go out and ask for international help, call it an international project. It is not only Americans who want to see the JWST out there in space, it is everybody on this planet who has some interest in science. Put away your pride US. It is costing us very, very good science.

  93. MAN

    @88 – Bruce – Yes, a substantial fraction of the *most recent* cost increase is the delay to 2018, which is not exactly “mandated” by Congress. But let’s put some numbers to that. That’s at most $900 M. JWST requires $4 Billion, with a B, to complete!

    There are two memes that the JWST folk are trying to ingrain into the community: 1) If we get cut, you’re never seeing that money, so don’t ask us to be cut! 2) “If only we had as much money as we wanted, when we wanted, it would be cheaper, and we’d launch in 2015!” (Hell, you can still find web sites of JWST people quoting a 2013 date…) I believe #1 up to a point – but these latest increases are explicitly being talked about as coming out of the hide of the rest of NASA.

    And it’s not really clear that, even given unlimited resources, a 2015 launch would be achievable. It really would leave no room for mistakes and revision. For example, it would assume, say, that the detectors that you just built merely needed to be tested and integrated, and weren’t degrading on the ground and need to be refurbished… (Which is exactly what happened with the current batch of detectors.)

    Saving that $900 M extra expense and launching in 2015, aside from presuming no mistakes happen,would mean that JWST would need about $1B/year for the next 3 years. There just isn’t the money in NASA to do that. It would gut the rest of space science.

    And please, let us stop saying that this is peanuts compared to defense. Sure, finishing JWST is “only” two weeks of Iraq & Afghanistan or so. But the more relevant comparison is that the $5 B overrun is a substantial fraction of the yearly NSF budget. It’s 17% of the yearly NIH budget. It’s a Chandra plus a Fermi plus a Kepler. It’s a lot of freaking money.

    Again, what’s our line in the sand where we’d say this was too much? $9B? $10B? 2020 launch? 2022 launch? It’s a legitimate question to ask *now*, while there is still a chance to do something about it.

    Let’s review the history of how we got here. In the 2000 decadal report, JWST lowballed its cost. *Everybody* knew they were lowballing. But the community went along with it, and there were no mechanisms then to review costs in the decadal. It got ranked #1 with a presumed price of something south of $2B. Hell, I’d buy a JWST for $2B, but thing is, we all knew that wasn’t going to be the case. But as the saying goes, it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and that’s what people were banking on.

    It was much, much harder to build than promised. And it was really badly managed. Both of those combined swelled the price further – to $6.5 B or so. That’s 3-4X what was promised!

    Would it have been put #1 in the decadal report of 2000 if it was quoted as $6.5B? No, absolutely not.

    Finally, the time delay to 2018 is adding maybe another $1B or so. (The remaining $1+B is probably largely the 5 years of operating costs.)

    To date, JWST has spent $3.5B. Under the most optimistic scenario of it gets unlimited funds as quickly as it can take them, it takes another $3B to finish, and it launches in 2015 (presuming *nothing*, absotlutely *nothing* goes wrong). Or under the proposed scenario, it takes $4B more to complete, and launches in 2018. So, one has only gotten 47%-54% of the way there. You can’t really blame that on Congress. You blame the community for willful ignorance & the managers for screwing up.

    The question is, do we go for forward and have faith that the remaining 46%-53% goes much better than the past 11 years? It is not an unreasonable question to ask, sooner rather than later.

    @94 – NASA & the US has really burned bridges with the international community. The 2010 decadal was truly schizophrenic. They strongly recommended international cooperation as the best way forward in the future. But to show their dedication to this concept, they put IXO as #4, effectively killing it, and out of whole cloth invented WFIRST, which is in direct competition with the European EUCLID. Yeah, JWST has some international cooperation on it, but canceling it wouldn’t do any more damage than the substantial damage already done by the past decadal report.

  94. David Miron
  95. Nigel Depledge

    Digital Axis (79) said:

    The problems I see with JWST are manifold:

    1.) It’s hideously expensive, because someone in NASA’s upper echelons decided it Had To Happen, and thus its success or failure was never seriously considered until the budget started growing completely out of control.

    No, it’s hideously expensive because it’s never been done before and the budget projections were just informed guesses. And, hey, guess what? Issues arose that had to be resolved which no-one had anticipated, and this took time and hence money.

    Whoever decided to pitch it as the successor to Hubble was a very smart person. I also wonder if it was started by NASA’s upper management wanting to make Hubble 2, and THEN asking scientists what they wanted for the super-duper new space satellite, rather than having scientists approach NASA with a specific goal in mind.

    I’m not sure if this is even relevant.

    2.) It’s in the IR only. Apparently it once included UV and optical capabilities like Hubble, but those were cut.

    But the IR remains a portion of the spectrum in which so many discoveries are waiting to be made. Hubble is limited in how far it can look because of the deep-deep-redshift at extreme distances. IR imaging will give far more information about really, really deep-sky objects.

    2a.) JWST is really the successor to Spitzer (or Herschel).
    2b.) There are MANY IR observatories up at the moment, because IR is the current flavor of the month.

    But its capabilities will be far greater than those of Spitzer or Herschel and (IIUC) JWST will observe at more different wavelengths. And it is a successor to Hubble inasmuch as it will be the flagship space-based telescope, with the main aim of uncovering information about the evolution of the universe (remember that Hubble’s main task when it was launched was to nail down an accurate figure for the Hubble constant).

    If you want UV, it’s Galex or nothing. UV apparently went out with the IUE satellite.

    Didn’t Hubble observe in the UV also?

    Besides, UV will provide more information about stuff we already know is there, but it does not have any prospect of informing us about really distant stuff, which is what we need to be able to understand the early evolution of the universe.

    Chasing the same ball is bad in soccer, and it’s also bad for cross-discipline synergies (if you can call IR vs X-ray vs radio “cross-discipline”) in astronomy.

    Your analogy fails. JWST is several steps better than any IR predecessor.

    2c.) BECAUSE of the IR wavelengths it uses, JWST will have a limited lifespan. When the cryogen runs out, it might be able to continue operating in its bluest wavelengths like Warm Spitzer is doing, but… its prime reason for existing will be over.

    Hang on a sec . . . I was under the impression that JWST is to keep itself cool with a whopping reflective sunshade, not a tank of He (l). Or maybe it uses both. Either way, the sunshade should make it last longer than any previous IR space telescope.

    3.) It’s not going to orbit the Earth. This also has to do with the IR wavelengths it uses, but I’m making a separate point out of it because: There will be no cryogen resupply. There will be no replacing equipment if it breaks or someone builds a better one. The spacecraft has to unfurl itself because the mirror is too big to fit into a rocket! If that fails, we lose $8.7 billion right there. Galileo space probe, anyone?

    I suspect that the team building the spacecraft is well aware of the possible failure modes, and has solutions in place to address them. Maybe this is one of the reasons that it has overrrun its original budget projections. Besides, the same issues apply to any other space telescope (apart from cryogen resupply, which would almost certainly be hideously dangerous to do in orbit anyway). Repair of satellites was what Shuttle was best at (insofar as jobs that could not be done by any other rocket system are concerned).

    4.) Because of the limited duration of the mission, the chances of a junior scientist like me actually getting time on it are low. (Archival data will be plentiful, but there’s less control over what you get) Hubble isn’t easy at all, but at least it’s been around for 21 years and will continue for a while yet: there’s a greater chance to distribute the impact. The best way I can think of is getting some JWST fellowship.

    This may be true, but with the Shuittle no longer available to repair space-based telescopes, the same point applies to anything else NASA might launch.

    The sad thing is, there ARE some missions that have to be enormous to be useful at all- LISA comes to mind. I have no real idea how gravity waves work or how they have to build the detectors, but I know enough to accept the idea that IF they ever want to detect gravity waves, they WILL have to spend a lot of money on the equipment.

    But LISA will face all the same shortcomings as you point out for JWST (except cryogen supply), and it would be even more blue-sky technology than JWST, so would require a larger development budget and more development time than even JWST. At least with JWST, the challenges are known and can be overcome, so it has a pretty good chance of working if it ever gets launched. LISA would be much more of a shot in the dark.

    Additionally, we know with a high degree of confidence that there are distant objects that we cannot currently observe but that JWST gives us a good chance of observing. And we can also be fairly confident that observation of these objects will give us new information about the early universe.

    We do not currently know if gravitational waves even exist, so what happens if LISA gets launched and returns no data at all? Sure, it will give us a maximum limit for the amplitude of gravitational waves, but it won’t rule out their existence for certain, although it would represent a strong hint that they probably don’t exist.

    JWST does not exactly inspire that kind of acceptance. Maybe I need to read up more.

    Maybe you should consider it in the context of what Hubble was intended to achieve, and what JWST is intended to achieve, and compare that against what an alternative mission might achieve should one be launched.

  96. MaDeR

    @97:
    “No, it’s hideously expensive because it’s never been done before and the budget projections were just informed guesses.”
    You wanted to say “uninformed”.
    You don’t tell me that missing order of magnitude is “informed guess”. Everyone knows that sciencists of most NASA mission are lying about predicted budget. Ooops, “lying” is such bad word. Lets say “overy optimistic” or other PC crap like this. Results are visible right now.

    JWST needs to be cut, killed and destroyed. It is not only overbloated, but also steals money from other missions – and this is inexcusable. If only these folks that lied about mission could answer for this failure… Yeah, I can dream. For example, no one answered for Shuttle – most horrible and grotesque overbudgeted monstrosty ever sold KNOWINGLY on promises that was completely false. So why anyone from smaller mission would fear any consequences of lies? Fish rots from head, indeed.

    I find hilarious and horrible how many people here repeats sunk cost fallacy, including Phil himself. On supposedly scientific blog, no less.

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