The watershed moment for JWST

By Phil Plait | September 13, 2011 6:30 am

[I want to start off this article with the conclusion, because the post is somewhat long and I want to avoid at least some of the slings and arrows that will inevitably turn up in the comments. Bottom line: I don’t want to see JWST canceled, but neither do I want it to hurt other NASA missions. However, the reality of the situation is that unless Congress fully and independently funds JWST, it is very likely it will siphon funds from other missions and could do a lot of damage to them. Both the people supporting and attacking JWST make excellent points, but they also assume that extra money will not be found to fund it. I cannot say if that’s a good assumption or not, but if it turns out to be true, JWST and NASA are in for an extremely distressing future.]

The James Webb Space Telescope, successor to Hubble, may be reaching the most critical juncture in its life: a vote by a U. S. Senate subcommittee on whether to fund it or not. The House version of the funding bill has the budget for JWST zeroed out. In other words, the House wants to kill it. The Senate has to vote on their version of the budget, and then the two chambers must reconcile the two versions. If the Senate votes to defund JWST, it’s essentially dead. The first version of that process may begin today.

What’s at stake

Here’s the thing: I don’t know how I feel about this.

On the one hand, JWST promises huge, huge science. Every time we’ve built a bigger telescope with new capabilities, we’ve learned things we didn’t even know we didn’t know. Hubble did that in spades, and JWST’s mirror will be far larger — and it will be the most sensitive telescope in the infrared ever built, allowing us to see deeper and more clearly in that wavelength range than ever before. It has and will provide new advances in technology and engineering, and will be a workhorse for science, used by hundreds of researchers for years to come. It will, quite literally, be the Hubble of its age.

On the other hand, cost overruns and mismanagement have been really bad (at the blog Starts With A Bang!, Ethan Siegel argues that this is both NASA’s fault and that of Congress, and I’m inclined to agree). A month or two ago I would’ve argued that this, though, was all behind us, and the cost to launch JWST would be small compared to canceling it. In fact, I did argue exactly this. However, things have changed. As I pointed out recently, an independent committee put together by Senator Barbara Mikluski found that the actual cost to launch JWST and run it for five years adds several billion dollars to the NASA estimate. Again, Ethan Siegel’s post describes this is all-too-painful detail, and the L. A. Times has an OpEd on this as well.

The impact of funding JWST

And there’s the heart of the issue. If JWST gets the go-ahead, that money has to come from somewhere. Where? NASA’s budget is fixed, so as things stand now (more on this in a sec) that money must come from other sources inside NASA. And that means other missions will get their budgets cut so that the funding can go to JWST.

This is not some flight of fancy. I’ve seen it happen before with other missions, and in fact some planetary scientists are so worried about it that they wrote an open letter about it that is, to be delicate, extremely frank in its assessment. The title is "JWST Threatens Planetary Science", if that gives you a taste of it. Here’s a quote:

We believe it is time to have an open debate on JWST and its value across all targeted communities, from planetary, Earth science, and heliophysics to human spaceflight. Congress needs to be informed about the impact of the choices facing it.

We individually and together reject the premise that JWST must be restored at all costs.

Yikes. And it’s signed by a lot of top-notch scientists, including Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons probe on its way to Pluto, and former Associate Administrator for science at NASA. Alan also has a Facebook page where his misgivings about JWST are crystal clear.

Clearly, these scientists are very concerned that planetary science will take a huge hit in funding to pay for JWST, and their carefully crafted mission structure for the next ten years may be scuttled. I have a hard time disagreeing with that assessment. The same could be said for NASA missions in astrophysics, solar physics, and other disciplines as well.

So what do we do?

So here we are. If the Senate cancels JWST, then we lose a huge opportunity to gain knowledge of our Universe, we’ll have wasted all the money currently spent, we’ll have most of a complete telescope sitting on ice somewhere, and NASA science will be in disarray (there are very few NASA astrophysics missions in the hopper right now). I’ll note that any money reserved for JWST will go away when it’s canceled, and not get relegated to other missions. If JWST is canceled, the benefit to other missions is that some future funding won’t be taken away from them to cover current and potential future JWST cost overruns.

And you can see why I’m so torn. I’m an astrophysics guy, and I really want to see JWST built. But I do love the other disciplines as well, and my loyalty lies with none (I have friends on both sides of this issue, by the way). I want to see everyone get what they need, with no harm to any.

Which leaves me with Solomon’s choice. Cut JWST, or save it?

The way I see it, given the information I have, is that Congress must either fully and independently fund JWST, or cancel it. And by that I mean find the money outside of NASA so no current missions take that hit (in effect, increasing NASA’s budget, or at least not cutting it). If they do this, then JWST will get built and not hurt other missions. If they cut it, then other missions again won’t be hurt, but of course we lose JWST.

The thing is, if Congress tries to compromise, JWST, NASA, and other missions could suffer mightily. We’ve seen it before: President Bush gave NASA an unfunded mandate to go back to the Moon and on to Mars, and the cost of developing a new rocket system drained a lot of funds. The Constellation program had to be canceled because of it, but the damage was already done.

My choice, obviously, is to fully fund both JWST and the other missions, and get the money from outside NASA. There are many, many examples of places the government could find that money. Heck, in 2007 Congress lostlost, as in it disappeared with no records — $12 billion dollars in cash in Iraq. That money would have paid for JWST in total and still have enough left over to send a half dozen fully-loaded rovers to Mars.

Of course, there are a thousand other worthy ventures our government can and should invest in. But I think the future of science and space exploration is one of them (others agree, of course). It should be declared a national priority.

The political reality of antireality

But with this current Congress — and especially with so many rabidly antiscience Representatives sitting in the House — that’s unlikely. And given how they are willing to go after any money, no matter how small the amount, that goes against their agenda (think of how much time, effort, and rattling of sabers occurred over the NPR budget, which is at most 0.01% of the Federal budget), it seems to me that getting them to fully fund JWST is unlikely. I’ll also add that Congress has told all agencies to expect budget cuts practically across the board. So that’s a bit bleak.

I note with interest that the head of the Senate subcommittee that will work on the budget is none other than Barbara Mikulski, who created the independent investigation of JWST. If the observatory gets funded and lives on, it will be controlled by the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland… both of which are in her state.

So if Congress doesn’t find that money, then we’re back to the killer decision: cut JWST or not.

This whole thing is tearing me apart, and I just don’t know enough about the internal workings of NASA and Congress to know which way is best. That’s why I’ve laid out things here as I see them. There are smart people arguing strongly on both sides of this, and for that reason alone it’s worth thinking this through carefully. Again, my first choice is and has always been to have Congress fully fund JWST independently of other NASA missions. That is the best way to move forward, and serves the needs of this nation best as well. If we don’t do that, NASA science may be headed for disaster.

And that’s what I’ll be telling my Senator.


Below are links to various sites that give more information, including some that are clearly supporting JWST and some that are clearly against it (if you know of more, please leave a comment). I urge you to read them all, make up your mind, and if you so desire contact your Senator.

Related posts:

Hubble’s successor, doomed or saved?
Congress threatens America’s future in space
Congress puts NASA and JWST on the chopping block
Hubble versus Webb

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (78)

  1. Dr. Hovind

    I wonder if part of the problem is that NASA routinely underestimates the cost of any program in order to make it more acceptable to congress, and then plans on its budget ‘overruns’ being accommodated?

  2. Rebecca Harbison

    Re: #1

    Why assume intent when wishful thinking, or being optimistic about sparse data would do the job? Let’s face it: it’s hard to be dispassionate about a mission that you’ve worked hard on and think is Really Neat, especially when you know that cost-effective is a criterion. As a grad student, all I need to budget is my time, and I regularly have to note that I’ll underestimate the complexity of any task I’m given.

    Six months or so ago, Dr. Steve Squyres gave a talk about putting together the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, and noted the difference between the budgets submitted from NASA agencies for missions and those supplied by an independent. Some of the NASA budgets were pretty much in agreement with the outside estimates; some were pretty badly off — it wasn’t a consistent NASA-plus or NASA-times.

    (He also noted that one of the problems was that NASA needs more money for general R&D adn technology development — not only is it easier to build a mission using mostly ‘off the shelf’ components, but predicting how much it’ll cost to, say, develop and build a new landing system for MSL because the old one can’t land heavier payloads is harder than ‘we need to build a camera like this one that cost $W, but with twice as many pixels and filters X, Y and Z’.)

  3. Tom

    The cynic in me says that NASA needs to take a page out of the Defense Contractors’ book. Put one little piece of every program in every congressional district. Have Penn State control moving solar panels clockwise. Ohio State controls moving them counterclockwise. Screws are fabricated in Rochester, bolts are fabricated in Detroit. etc etc.

    This is hugely successful in Defense. The executive branch finds that it can’t kill any defense programs because every Congressman wants to save the 30 jobs in his district tied to the development of a nuclear hand grenade, or whatever.

    Unfortunately, our system is hamstrung by the fact that any actual cuts in spending can only come from a tiny minority of the places where money is actually spent. Can’t touch entitlements, because the grey hairs will come after you. Can’t touch defense because you’ll be labeled “weak on defense”. Say, lets cut $1mm from the National Endowment for the Arts…nobody but New York City slickers will care!

  4. Alexander McLin

    I live in Baltimore and believe me I’ve written letters to Senator Barbara Mikulski and my House Representative Dutch Ruppersberger. I will continue to write them letters till it’s all over.

  5. Andy Wakefield

    And why do you omit mention of the internal letters that several AAS divisions have written on this topic ? Are you afraid to upset the AAS? Or do you not link to certain websites?

    AAS Members Decadal Priorities and Fiscal Realities Informational Email 2011-10

    Statement from the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society –

    Memo from AAS Solar Physics Division to AGU Heliophysics Section Regarding Webb Space Telescope Costs –

  6. Chris

    You seem to be employing a little Vulcan logic here.
    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
    Hopefully like Mr. Spock, the JWST will be resurrected.

  7. Matt

    Don’t forget the damage to NASA’s credibility on the international stage when considering the future of the programme. European partners are providing the NIRspec and MIRI instruments. MIRI is ready, either soon to be or now on the way to NASA for integration onto the frame. There are tens of millions of euros of European investment in the project (big money for European space agencies) and dozens of academic teams who have dedicated time and energy to the project. So it isn’t just NASA interested in the success of JWST.

  8. Good points, Dr. H. & Tom. I, too, find it annoying that NASA intentionally (yes, Rebecca, intentionally) underestimates the cost as a routine method of operation. Sure, it might have been wishful thinking, but virtually everything NASA does shows this pattern. Defense Dept. too. (It’s a dirty little secret that’s not all that secret.) Building contractors do the same gorram thing. At least car dealers don’t do it. “Oh I’m sorry, the $23,000 car you ordered now costs $28,000… $34,000… $45,000…”

    I agree with Tom that distributing the jobs over a larger footprint would help. Also stressing some military application might help… “Basic Physics helped end WW2, so fund our basic Astrophysics research now.” Brainless support of militarism by the politicians might enable us to beat a sword or
    2 into science plowshares.

    It’s a disgusting state of affairs, really.

    I’d like to see it fully funded as well as NASA’s whole budget increased. I also think the Webb mission planning should start with the instrument tethered to the ISS until the bugs are worked out, then & only then moved to the L point for operation. Can you imagine the hit science will take if it has technical issues crop up in deep space with NO chance for repair?

  9. Pete Jackson

    So where are the Warren Buffett’s of the world? They even say they need to pay more taxes since they’re so rich. It would be crass to rename the JWST itself, but how about the analysis center(s)? We could have the Warren Buffett Astrophysics Center, etc. etc. Thank of all the glory as press conference after press conference were held there.

    If all the post-launch costs could be assumed by private money, would that help?

  10. Gonçalo Aguiar

    I like how historically central banks printed money to face war expenditures, but now with such a scientific breakthrough to be unlocked the Congress will just sit idle and let JWST. This doesn’t make any kind of moral sense to me.

    As for the funding, can’t NASA borrow the money, like everyone is doing now?

  11. QuietDesperation

    So where are the Warren Buffett’s of the world?

    There aren’t as many as you think and, contrary to depressingly popular belief, their assets are not sitting around in cash form in a Scrooge McDuck style money bin.

    Related image: Warning – this is fantasy:

  12. Dave

    Temporarily suspend the war in Afghanistan for two weeks (literally) and the money saved will fund the overruns seamlessly.

    Ta da.

  13. MNP

    — Also stressing some military application might help… “Basic Physics helped end WW2, so fund our basic Astrophysics research now.” Brainless support of militarism by the politicians might enable us to beat a sword or 2 into science plowshares. —

    I would like to know how astrophysics helps us solve our environmental problems, energy generation problems, the problem of permanent space colonization etc. If there’s some way you can tie it to that, that would be awesome. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I really would like to know.

  14. Patrick

    I’m also torn on this. I had always thought that it was nearly an absurdity to cancel the JWST at this point, mismanaged or otherwise. I work now on the support side of two other flight missions and talking to the folks here has changed my thinking a bit. Dr. Hovind above makes the point: It has apparently become a strategy to low ball price tags to more easily sail through earlier review stages with the understanding that more money will always be available later. I don’t know the full story and I still hope JWST gets full funding, but at least if it’s canceled there will be a clear message that this sort of strategy can’t be employed any longer.

  15. The_Astro_Boy

    It helps to be quantitative when we talk about the money coming from other parts of NASA. The total amount of money needed to launch JWST in 2018 is 3.5% of NASA’s budget. This is amazing since JWST has the potential to be one of NASA’s most successful missions, so its a bargain. Now, much of that money ($400M per year) is already budgeted for JWST so the “overrun” is only the additional money needed. That additional money is about 1.5% of NASA’s budget. The solution put forth in the Nature article suggests half the money will come from the rest of NASA, and half from the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). So, any given division in SMD (astrophysics, planetary sciences, helio, earth) will only suffer a tiny amount and no missions will be cancelled due to JWST.

    Irrespective of all of this, the overall SMD budget is coming down like a rock because of the times we live, so many of the earlier priorities from years ago can not be all realized. This is the real problem…we need to argue for money for space exploration. Cancelling JWST will remove the $400M we now have from SMD, causing a huge hit. In that case, we can definitely say good bye to future large missions.

    Regarding Alan Stern, I’ve been doing some research and following some posts on other sites. It turns out that he is the problem, not the solution. JWST was in a management and budget mess in the late 2000’s when Alan was the Associate Administrator of SMD at NASA. The program was being run without any reserves, and so work was deferred to later years. This makes the project much more expensive. Alan was one of the main reasons that JWST was not appropriately funded, so I would say he is a little conflicted in this matter.

    Finally, keep in mind that other large NASA missions like Hubble and the Mars Program were also pulled out of their divisions and made agency level priorities in the past. These missions deliver science not only to those in their specific divisions, but across others. As an example, Hubble is used by hundreds of planetary scientists even though its an astrophysics mission. It has resulted in new bodies (such as the moons of Pluto) being discovered, which are now the prime targets of planetary missions (ironically, Alan Stern’s New Horizons mission).


  16. We do need science. I really hope somehow NASA can find the money to finish this important instrument. Perhaps it will have to go out and beg and/or borrow to get it finished. I don’t know.

    But, at the same time… let’s look at this from a job performance perspective. When do we start punishing NASA for NOT doing their job? If any of us were to start a project at work and have it take 50% longer than expected and cost nearly 100% more than expected…how long should we keep our job? If NASA is purposely underestimating projects in order to get them started, that is no way to run the agency either, for now if the JWST gets scraped, we have $4 billion wasted that could have went to other NASA projects that are just as important.

    This is the problem we are facing all over government…we have important things to do and government is really the best place to do them. However, we don’t want to face the realities of government waste and inefficiency. We don’t want to shut down “our program” even when it is clear that there is more to be gained by shutting it down than by keeping it going. We justify it by saying it is just a tiny part of the overall budget when we all know enough raindrops still fill up the ocean.

    Let me be clear…we need NASA or something similar in order to do science and to keep our progress as humans going. But, we need to also face the reality that maybe NASA needs to be reorganized in a bigger way and not just by cancelling the JWST. I don’t have all the answers, but when I look at the numbers it makes me start asking questions.

  17. Eric

    How much is “mismanagement” and how much is just not being able to put a price on technology that was, previously, impossible? These guys are inventing stuff that was previously magic, how can they possibly put out a good, solid cost estimate from the outset?

  18. Richard

    It is pretty much universally acknowledged (at least privately) by everyone that I know in the community that the initial estimates for JWST were low-balled.

    As a scientist (and a cosmologist), I agree that JWST is enormously exciting, and a critical piece of intellectual infrastructure for the United States, and the global community.

    However, the community needs to demand some accountability from the people who let this situation develop over the last decade, and speak out against the sort of mismanagement that got us into this mess in the first place. We are asking for billions of dollars of public money, and we need to be seen to be careful stewards of that precious resource — but to simply hold out our hands for more without acknowledging that we (as a community) stood by silently as this mess developed is not only bad politics, but poor citizenship.

  19. Naming it after a NASA administrator then FUBARing it with NASA administration is self-consistent. Management exists to kill the future, for the only trusted employee is one whose sole marketable asset is loyalty.

  20. First, NASA and the JWST could, of course, be fully funded by insignificant cuts in defense and/or entitlement. Cuts that would not have any effect on the end products of either.

    However, that doesn’t seem to be an option. So NASA need to prioritize. They are involved in many, many projects and the JWST is one of the most important one in my opinion. Some of the things they are doing need to be cancelled.

    I would say the most important are the JWST and those missions involving the Moon and Mars. The rest should be on the chopping block, perhaps prioritized by distance from the sun. Certainly all their projects can do great science, but the priorities should be aimed and getting people out there, getting us off this rock.

    Another potential area for cutting from NASA would be in earth science projects, which ought to be the responsibility of NOAA. This I would do even if congress steps up and funds them properly. I’d like to see a line drawn between earth and space science research, though of course each would do a lot of data sharing.

    If I were elected Czar I would, of course, fully fund both agencies as very high priorities.

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    Er .. BA?

    When I went to your link here :

    .. signed by a lot of top-notch scientists, including Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons probe on its way to Pluto, and former Associate Administrator for science at NASA. Alan also has a Facebook page where his misgivings about JWST are crystal clear. [emphasis = hyperlink or I think that’s what they call’em.]

    I only got :

    This content is currently unavailable.The page you requested cannot be displayed right now. It may be temporarily unavailable, the link you clicked on may have expired, or you may not have permission to view this page.

    Which is a shame because I have a lot of respect for Alan Stern and am keen to see his view on this.

    Tried clicking on it a few times for the same negative result. Is the problem with me or the site or link or what? Anyone else getting / not getting that to work?

    Question too :

    an independent committee put together by Senator Barbara Mikluski found that the actual cost to launch JWST and run it for five years adds several billion dollars to the NASA estimate.

    Um .. how “independent” and knowledgeable and reliable is that committee and does it have any possible agenda or not? I don’t know which is why I’m asking but for the JWST figures to suddenly change so much does strike me as being .. odd shall we say?

    Again, my first choice is and has always been to have Congress fully fund JWST independently of other NASA missions. That is the best way to move forward, and serves the needs of this nation best as well.[Emphasis original.]

    Ramen! :-)

    Well said and seconded by me.

    Fund NASA properly Congress. It’s an investment in the future and the money is spent here on Earth and boosts othe US economy and national morale and capabilities.

  22. Ken Cavagnolo

    As someone that has spent time advocating the value of science and science education inside the halls of Congress, I can assure you there is more to this issue than budgetary logistics and politicking. The problem is that many members of Congress are science illiterates. There is no amount of eloquent, simplified language that will help them understand why a billion dollar project like JWST is important in general. They lack the intellectual curiosity, flexibility, and willpower to appreciate how general knowledge and unabated curiosity have profound, long-term implications for society as a whole. This prevents them from making the big investments now that pay-off in 20 to 30 years. The environment in Washington is so dysfunctional, that when supporters of a threatened project like JWST band together and become more vocal, Congressional members leap to the conclusion that people are only out to save their jobs, their budgets, and their special interests. So unless those interests align with their’s (e.g. my district makes parts for JWST), they tune-out. It’s a vicious cycle that ends only when a program is zeroed-out and killed, or when a willful administration comes to power and forces Congress to allocate funds to certain areas (e.g. Bush and the Mars/Moon missions).

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    Is it possible – or could it be made so – for NASA – the JWST esp. – to get

    I) Funding via corporate sponsorship?

    & /or

    II) Becoming a branch of the military – America’s Space Force or Space Fleet perhaps?

    Or / &

    III) Foreign partnerships – the ISS is an international project could the JWST be made to work as one as well?

    Guess these (yeah, potentially problematic but still) ideas have probably already been considered but figure it can’t hurt to throw these suggestions out there in case not in the off-chance that a way to make them work might be possible.

  24. Bethany

    Phil, thank you for eloquently articulating what many in the astronomical sciences feel.

    One thing I think is missing is the impact on the future of large flagship missions at NASA. In the era of Big Science we rely more on international partnerships to afford large missions. The outcome of JWST will show our international partners how the US government is going manage future large-scale missions.

    In terms of the recent debt reduction debate, if we “default” on our obligations to build JWST, then NASA’s “credit rating” will go down. There will be no confidence that the US will “pay what it owes” on future large-scale missions. There will be a loss of investor confidence, if you will. And this will certainly affect the planning for any of NASA’s large missions.

    If there is a lack of confidence for NASA to complete a large mission, within Congress or internationally, then what makes people think there will be any large missions coming out of NASA? I understand that when money is tight everyone wants to circle the wagons and protect their people and their missions. However, not supporting JWST shows a lack of vision for the future of astronomy and for NASA. All of the large-scale astronomical Decadal Survey priorities (planetary, helio, and astro) are at risk of never getting out of gate if JWST doesn’t launch.

    What are your thoughts?

  25. Paul

    If NASA’s “credit rating” goes down, that seems like a plus, not a minus. I like it when NASA can’t use foreign entanglements to justify otherwise unjustifiable programs. Consider the space station, which survived on just this argument.

    Less international cooperation of that kind, please.

  26. @20. VinceRN :

    First, NASA and the JWST could, of course, be fully funded by insignificant cuts in defense and/or entitlement. Cuts that would not have any effect on the end products of either.

    Or how about we cancel all foreign aid to Pakistan – fine it the return of the last twenty years aid money plus punitive damages for harbouring bin Laden & supporting the taliban – and cancel all foreign aid to other Muslim nations too?

    Cancel Obamacare – the Republicans will scrap it anyhow – and send the repo men (SEAL team 6? ;-)) to collect the bail out money plus interest from the bankrupt bailed out banks & Wall street?

    That oughta cover JWST, NASA, Constellation and then some! 😉

    If I were elected Czar I would, of course, fully fund both agencies as very high priorities.

    You don’t get “elected” Tsar, Vince – you have to be born into the Russian royal family as the Tsarevitch! 😉

    (FYI The Czar is the Tsar, the Tsarvetch his heir, his wife is the Tzarina and the other kids are the Tsardines natch! 😉 )

    PS. On separating NASA and Earth science – yeah, that kinda make sense -agreed. :-)

  27. Titan

    It pains me to even think about the possibility of canceling JWST. I feel like I have done my part by writing my congressmen about the issue, but I’m afraid that it isn’t enough. I’m also afraid that in the coming days we will have to face a future in which we chose to disband our instinctive desire to explore and wonder about our universe.

  28. R2K

    You are correct. The wrong choice is to chose between the JWST and other NASA projects. We simply cannot afford to fall any further behind in science and technology. The sweet-spot for NASA funding is between 1 and 3 percent of the federal budget. Increasing funding by about three times, to 1.2 percent, would enable thousands of new, high quality jobs. At 3 percent, Mars would be within our reach for extensive manned exploration.

  29. Do you think space agencies in other nations will be in a position any time soon to create something comparable? At this point, I’m more concerned with humanity’s advancement than I am with America’s. If humanity as a whole can make up the loss in reasonable time, I say go ahead and cut it.

    That said, :'( :'( :'(.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    Someone’s no doubt linked this already in moderation but this :

    blog article from the ‘Starts with a Bang!’ blog is worth reading and draws a worrying parallel with US astrophysics today and what happened to US particle physics previously. :-(

    I don’t think we can afford to cut the JWST if that’s any guide – maybe we can cut a few congressmen or something instead? Would changing the US political system – say abolishing the electoral colledge thingy – save enough money? Perhaps y’all should consider scrapping either the office of President or the Congress since they seem mutually incompatible and unable to work together and maybe go with just one or t’other? 😉

    After all, a Space Telescope is worth a thousand times to Humanity what any President or Congress could deliver! Rather scrap bad politicians than good science! 😉 😛

  31. This may seem unrelated, but take a moment to look at this link:

    Here’s the thing: We can debate raising or lowering taxes and where that should be. Once we have a level of funding, there is a finite amount of money to be spent. If we cut the JWST, that money (theoretically) could be spent to help cover a record number of uninsured Americans, help pay for veterans mental health needs, help plant more trees in our national parks, help more research in renewable fuels… The idea of the article is that whenever we spend money in one place, it comes at the sacrifice of another.

    So when I see these silly arguments like we should stop the wars or stop foreign aid – sure, that would be nice – but then maybe others would argue we should stop health care for the poor or stop funding Pell Grants. You can see the argument can go many ways on this. That’s why I think the JWST is a great example of where we need to really look at the priorities of EVERY government agency and decide what is important, and what isn’t. Sounds to me like the JWST should be priority #1, and maybe NASA should sacrifice somewhere else – and maybe they need to make that sacrifice due to their mismanagement of the construction of this.

    I’ll leave you with one other link. Please note the language is NSFW. But, Penn Jillette makes a great logical case for being wary of large government. If you can tolerate the swearing – it is a great point and it makes me always think twice before supporting a government program.

  32. Gary

    If Bush and Obama had not enabled Congress top waste billions on bailouts, stimuli, and vote-pandering, we might be able to afford big science. As it is, the cupboard is bare. And the next couple of generations will be paying for our venal politicians rather than discovering wonders of the universe.

  33. Chief

    Give Nasa a small chunk of the jobs creation money Obama is trying to push through. Lose the scope and the number of jobs and know how lost will be a lot higher than the job package will need to hand out.
    Oh sorry, A large chunk of the money will go to administration of funds direction in various states and very little will be left for the pocket book of the average joe. (bet it’s hands off for anything with science written on it due to the anti science crusades in the congress)

  34. MNP Said:
    “I would like to know how astrophysics helps us solve our environmental problems, energy generation problems, the problem of permanent space colonization etc. If there’s some way you can tie it to that, that would be awesome. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I really would like to know.”

    Thing is, we never know how basic research is going to pan out. That’s the beauty of it. Einstein couldn’t forsee the atom bomb when he id his gedenken experiments, nor can we forsee the outcomes from the Webb. Military uses, energy production uses, medical breakthroughs are all possible.

  35. Ohio Mike

    Defense -$5B
    NASA +$5B


  36. Alan(UK)

    As the US people have voted to elect anti-science Representatives, perhaps it is time to just let democracy run its course. It is probably not feasible at this stage to cart the half-finished pieces to Europe as a lot of the expenditure so far has probably been in fixed facilities. However, it would seem feasible for the other partners to take over the financing and management of the project. This would provide continuing employment for the undoubtedly very able scientists and engineers already working in the US and thus keep Congress happy. Of course we would have to be very careful not to allow the US to play such a critical role in future space projects.

  37. JohnK

    Ohio Mike,

    I like the way you think.

  38. DigitalAxis

    Well, I just sent a letter to my congressmen and, for good measure, Obama (hey, it was one web form away). I focused on the damage to NASA, the jobs of skilled scientists, engineers, and educators (that we’re supposed to be nurturing with STEM initiatives) that will be lost, and the general loss to NASA’s and the USA’s prestige, all for a minor budget return that won’t fix ANYTHING.

    The less said about JWST the better, but really… the time to kill JWST was BEFORE Congress got wind of it and decided to use it as an excuse to strangle NASA.

  39. @9: Pete Jackson:

    Check out the Kalvi Institutes. The Smithsonian is also looking for large private donors.

    @13 MNP:

    The list of items created by aeronautics that is now used every day is almost endless. In astrophysics? How about this recent article on X-ray astronomy helping a possible cancer treatment?

    @15 The_Astro_Boy:
    I have to disagree with your statement regarding Alan Stern-
    ” Alan was one of the main reasons that JWST was not appropriately funded, so I would say he is a little conflicted in this matter.”

    From what I remember at the time, Stern was pretty strict on budgets. He didn’t “appropriately” fund JWST because he was pushing for accountability. My understanding is he left NASA because he was pushing JWST to stay within a budget.

    @17 Eric:
    If you told your family that you were going to buy a new car for $1000, they would have told you were underbudget. People knew at the time the JWST bid was too low. Whomever accepted that bid should have been the first to go.

    @18: Richard.
    Thank you! This is a perfect statement. However, many people have been against the costs of JWST since the first signs of overruns appeared. We need to fix this!

    @28 Ray Merkler
    No, the other space agencies are also out of money.

    In a perfect world, JWST would get it’s own budget line in the federal budget, NASA would maintain its current budget and new bidding procedures would be put in place to prevent such a large cost overrun from happening like this again.

    However, we are not all smoking right now and we realize there ARE going to be choices between JWST and other NASA Projects. There is no two ways about it. Very few people were happy about the decadal survey that was just released. Since June, IXO and LISA have been scrapped. Years of work are gone. This is how things work in a tight economy.

    I think we need to start making science a priority for our country. We need to find ways to remove the anti-science movement and move forward to a country that wants to be at the top of STEM right now.

  40. Chris

    Apple has about $76 billion. They could easily buy and run the JWST. Forget your congressmen, email Steve Jobs!

  41. Anchor

    If Congress can so casually “lose” $12B in cash to Iraq (hmmm) then they can casually cough up the extra $xB needed to get this telescope up and running.

    And it is dirty pool of Congress to keep forcing NASA into situations plucking at itself to do what CONGRESS always dictates to NASA to get done.

    BTW: They’ve just announced that they’ve completed all the mirror coatings on schedule.

  42. Exactly WHY is NASA’s budget fixed? This is the real question that needs to be asked. Scientists may not like to get political, but the fact is, there needs to be a united lobby for science, not just of physicists, astronomers, and planetary scientists, but also those in the health professions and medical research. We have spent billions of dollars on two wars that have gone on for ten and eight years respectively with no real results to show for them. Over and over, Congress has given subsidies and tax breaks to corporate polluters, who in turn elect them in a system of legalized bribery. Last year, a bill to increase research funding for pancreatic cancer–something that is not political and would benefit people of all parties and persuasions–failed to pass the lame duck Congress. Scientists and science advocates need to join forces and lobby; those who don’t like the idea need to be reminded that all those other special interests who benefit from our tax dollars do lobby and therefore, they end up getting the big bucks while this country slides ever more closely toward becoming a Third World nation.

  43. Steve

    Congress has been starving NASA for decades. It’s not this current Congress and stop blaming Tweedledee (Republicans) instead of Tweeldedum (Democrats). They are both at fault for killing science funding in favor of their pet projects. Until you stop welfare and warfare you won’t get any science funding – period. Complain all you want to your Congress people, the oligarchy doesn’t care. They want to fund welfare and warfare to keep you enslaved and under their thumb.

  44. Mark Wood

    MNP Said:
    “I would like to know how astrophysics helps us solve our environmental problems, energy generation problems, the problem of permanent space colonization etc. If there’s some way you can tie it to that, that would be awesome. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I really would like to know.”

    1: Astronomy has found data about fundamental forces that have determined that our understanding of gravity and other fundamentals are incomplete and in some ways, at odds with microscale-physics (quantum mechanics etc)
    (Specifically, the discovery that the universe is accelerating outward, indicating continuum repulsion or a inherent matter-repels-matter force)

    2: understanding stellar physics *now* (quickly) translates into understanding fusion physics, which is about to be *the* major topic in energy research, with 3 or 4 companies working towards fusion breakthroughs

    2a: if we get working fusion = we get away from mideast oil = we could withdraw the military from the mideast and let the Chinese have it while we substantially switch to electric cars and domestic/Canadian production for must-have-oil activities

    3: the LHC’s non-discovery of the Higgs-Boson = start of the next phase of “New Physics” … deep-space maximally-long-range telescopy, especially about echos-of-the-big-bang-background-radiation = clues to the origin states of the universe = clues to the Big Bang = clues to the fundamentals of quantum-mechanics and nuclear physics = clues to the next phases physics … and possibly of something for disrupting non-uranium-nuclei and a functionally infinite power source (directly-induced-matter-energy-conversion without antimatter or a high-energy-relativistic-collider)

    So … imagine that we get enough clues about the big bang aftermath
    to get an idea about the near-big-bang physics states
    that leads to a fundamental understanding of the matter smaller than quarks
    that leads to a discovery of how to manipulate and destabilize otherwise stable matter
    and essentially to induce partial or complete nuclear deconstruction in abundant non-weaponizable elements
    so your car or aircraft can use a matter-energy-converter into a thermal-electrical-converter of Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10
    and then drive electric motors for your drive-wheels or ducted-fans (for VTOL or propulsion)

    BTW: for short term (abundant power, but still needs specific fuel)
    … everything you want is do-able using thorium reactors and power systems
    www txchnologist com/2011/the-thorium-laser-the-completely-plausible-idea-for-nuclear-cars
    www popsci com/technology/article/2011-06/new-alloy-can-convert-heat-directly-electricity

    For the longer-term (matter-energy-converter, arbitrary-fuel, working by de-stabilizing matter by low-level-manipulation) I believe there *is* a way to do this … today-ish … but it involves re-using a part of a very-classified directed-energy-weapons-system (no, not a free-electron-laser) that I’m not going to post publicly about (but will explain to the author if he emails me to ask)

    (As far as *this* design, a converter could theoretically be prototyped today with no exotic materials, and I’d love to have a university do so, … and since I’m not under a secrecy-order, classified-material-oath or NDA, there are no obvious restrictions on attempting to do so.)

  45. CML

    The report on the management of JWST can be found at:

    The James Webb Space Telescope Independent Comprehensive Review Panel wasn’t staffed by people from Maryland, but from California-JPL, actually.

  46. Ken

    sell the naming rights for $500 million – $1 billion to raise funds. The marketing benefits for a large cash-rich company that will be instrumental in ground breaking scientific discoveries are incalculable (ie “Google Telescope Discovers First Extraterrestrial Life on Exoplanet”). This could be paid for over a number of years making it even more attractive to corporations

    sell scientific access to telescope on a limited basis

    or: partner with Chinese (which would involve sharing sensitive technology, but might be worth the risk). They’ve got the cash and would love prestige and access to science.

  47. SLC

    Of course, the answer to this problem is simplicity itself. Cut back the manned space program which is now nothing but a gigantic boondoggle and use the funding saved to complete the James Webb telescope. The scientific value of the telescope is a thousand times the scientific value of manned space flight (assuming that the latter has any such value at all, a doubtful proposition at best).

    However much Dr. Plait is enamored of the manned space program, we have now arrived at the point in time were the old saying, one can’t have one’s cake and eat it too has become relevant.

  48. Cheyenne

    And SLC states the obvious….

    Of course that is correct. If the money has to come from other NASA missions scale back the unproductive manned stuff as much as possible. And people that think that NASA is going to get a budget increase anytime soon are, um, using very wishful thinking.

    As usual Bob Park is correct but a bit overly harsh in his latest comments on the manned programs – “What do astronauts do these days? Well, they train on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, which we don’t own. And what do we get from the ISS? The garbage and human waste accumulated since the last delivery. “

  49. @Laurel (for example)

    Ok, that’s all well and good to go push for more money….but where is the money going to come from? Perhaps instead we should be talking about less money for everyone, including those that receive the tax breaks now.

    Let’s put it this way, going by 2008 numbers (latest available from the IRS from what I can find – – you could raise the EFFECTIVE tax rate 30% on those making over $114,000/year (effective tax rate meaning raise it 30% on every dollar over the standard deduction) and you would raise an extra $1.16 trillion/year. That doesn’t even cover our deficit. So we can talk all we want about what we WANT to fund, what we WANT to lobby for, the truth is EVERY government agency needs to make a priority list, and every government agency needs to be put on a priority list.

    Now, maybe through our public discourse, we will decide that NASA and science is more important than foreign entanglements (which would be my position). But we are at a point where we cannot afford to keep paying for everything without some accountability and honesty. We can’t just always shout “we want more, more, more.” Perhaps it’s time the taxpayers start asking “why, why, why?”

  50. Astrofiend

    “they wrote an open letter about it that is, to be delicate, extremely frank in its assessment. The title is “JWST Threatens Planetary Science”, if that gives you a taste of it.”

    Bugger planetary science – How many friggin’ probes do you need to incrementally advance our knowledge of some obscure process operating in the far reaches of the solar system? Need we remind them of the endless cost-overruns that THEY have foisted upon NASA? And what about solar science? The 20000 probes currently lofted not enough for you? If we had any more probes looking at the Sun at the moment, I would actually consider it a sick joke.

    JWST is accorded so much weight because it is one of those once-in-a-generation instruments that will literally rewrite our entire understanding of star formation, galaxy formation, galaxy evolution and hell – the evolution of the early universe itself. Questions don’t get much more profound than that, and if JWST gets killed, the current generation of scientists are going to have a hell of a time trying to answer them.

  51. Grand Lunar

    From my POV, it’s the same situation we had with the Constellation program.

    In all likelihood, I see the JWST as being canceled to fun the porker of a rocket, SLS.
    I’d be surprised Congress would keep it alive.

    It’d be nice if donations were being accepted to keep it going. Maybe offer such donations as tax write offs! Watch who would flock to it then…..

  52. Science does not get the support of the current anti-Americans in the Republican Party; in fact, that party has been consistently denigrating science and the educated people who practice it for several decades. The demonization of science ties directly to the “liberal elites” who are out to “make the U.S. a socialist country.” Science and government, by extension, since the government supports scientific research on the scale which it needs to be funded, are the principal targets because they are so poorly understood by the ever-increasingly ignorant and lied-to public.

    Ronald Reagan’s mantra, as written for him by Grover Norquist and other flaks of the then-Republican party, is that “Government is the problem.” This anti-government, anti-elite – and here read educated – attack has been hammered away at for decades. Science has been particularly flagged as the antithesis of the “Christian” religion under which our nation was founded, so believe the know-nothings on the far right of the current Republican party. The early moon exploration program was vilified as a money waster, where the costs of the program could be better spent building schools. An irony in itself, since public schools have also been relentlessly attacked by the right wing of the Republican party, especially public colleges and universities, as harboring cadres of Communist and Socialist professors, Pinkos who want to turn our schoolchildren into secular atheists.

    That President Obama followed one of the most anti-science presidents in our history has not done anything to dull the attack from the Republicans, a party which has been usurped by the far far-right loons in the tea party and by most of the rest of the R’s, all of whom are bought and paid for by their corporate masters.

    These neo-Republicans assault science at every turn: climate change as professed by the elite Democratic ex-vice president Al Gore is a hoax and a gimmick simply to make money for the doomsayers and the schemers who propose the cap and trade regulations and write books about the coming heat wave. Wasting taxpayer dollars on PBS, a public company full of elite anti-right wing propagandists, must be stopped. NASA is simply a nest of elite secular scientists who want only to spend our tax dollars on wasteful projects like the JWST and useless space trips to the Moon and Mars. The curtailment of oil drilling (gas, coal, oil sands) on American soil is only a scheme to make the homeland vulnerable to foreigners from whom we must buy our increasingly needed oil. There is nothing wrong with nuclear power. Climate change isn’t happening. All this and more have been on the agendas of the Republican party over the past several decades. And with the additional noise from Fox broadcasting and right-wing radio talk shows reinforcing the messages, much of the voting public is becoming increasingly distanced from reality.

    So we are left fighting over the ever-decreasing crumbs of a minuscule scientific budget in government, and which the public is ever more reluctant to support, given our “serious budget crisis” – perhaps the greatest disinformation coup the Republican party has yet accomplished.

    no.33 (Alan UK) has the gist of our problem. Unless the majority of the voting public suddenly gets a brain and gets clued in on the massive disinformation smears of the last few decades, we are likely to continue a downward spiral into the oligarchical plutocracy toward which we are careening. All the while niggling over crumbs.

  53. Will M – I would hope you would read your comments and understand your tone is exactly what the GOP is looking for from the left. It is why they are gaining in the polls and why they were able to take over the House in the last election. Liberals cannot seem to find a reasonable voice anymore, so we have been caught in this back and forth yo-yo of elitist politicians that show no real leadership. President Obama has done no better in showing leadership in science, energy policy or anything else. And as far as your opinions, have you stopped to consider maybe your science (or at least the logic is bad)?

    Let me give you a quick example…the U.S. consumes 19.6 million barrels of oil per day, about 70% of which is turned into gasoline or Diesel. Why? Because we have the infrastructure, the vehicles, and the people willing to sell us the oil. Plus, gasoline is a great energy storage medium. Do you think if we just stopped importing or drilling oil that the average american would be able to afford to convert to some other form of transportation? Where are those resources going to come from? What we should be doing is DRILLING. Weird, eh? But if we drilled here, it would drive down the world price of oil. It would create jobs here. And what we could then do is tax the oil at a nice heavy rate (say $40/barrel). Energy prices stay about the same, we create millions of domestic jobs, and we now have billions of dollars to invest in alternative energy research with the tax so we can eventually get away from the oil we are addicted to now.

    Take a quick look at the mountain of stuff the EPA is producing every single day.!OpenView – and you wonder why candidates like Michelle Bachmann is making hay with statements like she wants to abolish the EPA. Because the government is not accessible. I’m in science and I can look at some of that stuff and get frustrated with trying to understand it. So again I want to say this isn’t a problem with just the right. If you think it is, we aren’t solving the problem. This is a problem with government, not just the right.

    Here, Dave Meslin gives another example of how government discourages us from being engaged. – This isn’t a party problem, it’s a government problem.

    Now many in the right are anti-science because it gets them votes – because it is easy. We need to educate and inform. But we also need to push the left just as hard to make science accessible, to make it real, to make it reasonable.

    <<steps down from soapbox

  54. PhycoKrusk

    “How is it a ten-year long war with no clear enemy, no clear exit strategy, and no clear end can receive unlimited funding through emergency appropriations, but something that will actually do something cannot?” is the question that is not being asked. If we get out of Afghanistan, we will have more than enough money for the JWST. Here’s the truth of it:

    The war in Afghanistan and the JWST are both money pits, and whatever money is already sunk into them is money we are never getting back. What *needs* to be looked at then is what value is being added by each endeavor. The JWST stands to add enormous value; besides the obvious scientific value, it will put people to work finishing its construction, preparing to launch it, launching it, and then maintaining it and analyzing whatever data it gathers. Beyond looking into the IR spectrum, it will allow us to better find and identify exoplanets, and even learn more about our own solar system. The war in Afghanistan does not stand to add any value except to the military-industrial complex in the form of more weapons we don’t need and more violence we don’t want, at the cost of a lot of unnecessarily dead American infantrymen. It’s also going to cost a lot more over five years than the JWST while, again, adding no value except to a tiny fraction.

    The choice there should be a clear one. *Should* be.

  55. David C.

    REF #1 NASA Costing of Programs
    From Early Days of NASA it has normally taken years of development to get to a fabricated article, and while that has been happening research carries on; this has lead to a conflict whereby projects start out optimistically based on exiting research, only to have new research come along whereby, the project leaders are tempted into adding to the program (ie the Voyager Program a prime example) or replacing whole packages with new ones that have better metrics; it is a constant trade off;
    the JWST is no different than the Hubble and the many projects that went before; the sad thing is, that with all the upgrades over the primary project metrics, we have a much better and longer lasting apparatus to put forward to the scientific community (ie Phil Plait 😉 and in reality, while it appears to be costly, it is a bargain, if fully funded;
    I would like to see large ENTERPRISE type projects like this, take on a life of there own, outside of the restrictions of the NASA budget; a mechanism should be found for this, otherwise, this century, with all it’s emphasis on Science, R&D, and The Advancing of Humanity Through Space Exploration, will be a wasteland of dead projects that never made it through to usage, and we will be much the poorer for it in 2100;
    BTW this is NOT just a US problem, it is a problem for the whole world; it is only that this is being talked about mostly on US web sites like this, that I have a chance to get on my Speaker’s Corner soap box 😉


  56. Nyetwerke

    Here is another idea for funding which is being squandered by congress and that is, stop funding projects for which there are no missions! Planetary Society gathered 20,000 signatures to petition congress to ” support NASA in its primary mission of space exploration. Please take a stand against letting vested interests legislate how to build rockets, while precious opportunities to advance science, technology and space exploration pass us by. By pioneering space exploration, NASA creates scientific and economic value for the future of our world.”
    I understand that there were jobs lost from the STS but squandering resources such as shuttle motors, parts, and material just to maintain employment is not a good use for a budget which could be used to advance science and discovery such as with the JWST.

  57. MadScientist

    I’d hope for funding to finish the JWST mission. Otherwise I would prefer to put a hold on the already plagued Mars projects and even consider canceling launches (though possibly still finishing instruments and putting them in storage). Fiddling with existing projects is undesirable though because it ultimately leads to cost increase on those projects (assuming many will be completed at a later date rather than simply dumped) and the teams needed to run a project may disband and find other projects. Personally I would find JWST far more exciting than yet another Mars mission because its instruments will provide a hell of a lot of data in a spectral region which we’ve only been able to peek at with severe limitations from the earth’s surface. (Just imagine all the redshift regions which you can now look at in detail.) The biggest problem I see with the JWST is that there is only one being built – that’s a hell of a lot of money riding on a flying bomb. Unfortunately it’s been over 3 decades since folks have had the luxury of building a launch spare.

  58. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ MadScientist :

    The biggest problem I see with the JWST is that there is only one being built – that’s a hell of a lot of money riding on a flying bomb.

    Agreed. The very worst case scenario is that the JWST is built at the expense of other NASA programs then the rocket launching it blows up or it turns out to have a problem post-launch as unlike Hubble it cannot be fixed in orbit. :-(

    Still, that is worst case and the odds of it happening are .. what? Pretty small really?

    Especially versus the enormous benefits if it all works as planned.

    Still I’d be much happier if there were two or more of them under construction – and if we had a manned spacecraft capable of reaching and repairing them should something go wrong.

    (BTW. Why do some people still insist on the weary old zero-sum fallacy nonsense that we are obliged to choose either manned or unmanned space exploration when we are NOT. We can and are best off doing *BOTH* and having these programs work together – they are complementary to each other NOT in competition with each other! Sigh. :roll: )

    It is just so infuriating the way the funding system doesn’t work and NASA gets next to nothing – but is still falsely singled out by ignorant clueless people as supposedly “wasting money” when so much more money gets wasted far more badly for far less benefit. :-(

    Instead of Congress cancelling funding for the JWST and NASA generally maybe it should be Congress that gets cancelled and abolished and the funding it wastes put into the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA instead? I know which is more useful, more beneficial to Humanity generally and the US particularly and better able to deliver and it ain’t the politicians! 😉


    “I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”
    – Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight.

    “But out of the whirlwind came a silent bird from the stars, a symbol of our ability to work with nature, to use our intelligence and within the limitations of our world, to do great things.”
    – David Levy on witnessing the 4th landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Page 28, ‘Astronomy’ magazine October 1982.

    “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?” [Emphasis added.]
    – Gregory Cecil, Space Shuttle tile technician quoted on page 47, “Throttle down” article in ‘Air & Space’ magazine, Nov 2010.

  59. QuietDesperation

    You can sling all the ideological blame you want, but the political class is just laughing at you (well, when they bother to notice). Under the whole JWST debate are lots of political shenanigans that you or I will never even know about.

    Planetary Society gathered 20,000 signatures

    Ooooo! They can buy that many votes back home with just the promise of more handouts.

  60. Timothy from Boulder

    “If the Senate cancels JWST … we’ll have wasted all the money currently spent.”

    While this argument is often cited, it is not true. I will reiterate what I have said before on the topic. If the program is cancelled, the entirety of program funding is not “wasted.” 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. Much of the money spent on JWST went towards developing and maturing enabling technologies. These technologies only exist now because of the money spent on the program. 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.

  61. Asma

    That’s a really sad thing to know about. The James Webb space telescope will mark a revolution in astronomy and astrophysics, who knows what new things it can discover!

    Isn’t there any way that NASA cooperates with other space agencies or other countries that are ready to pay for the project? Maybe someone should suggest that to them!

    Ahh, if I just had enough money (billions), I would have given it all for the JWST! It’s a new hope, a new door towards a better understanding of our cosmos.
    They can’t just kill JWST, I just won’t handle seeing all this hope goes away!

  62. SLC

    Re Messier Tidy Upper @ # 52

    (BTW. Why do some people still insist on the weary old zero-sum fallacy nonsense that we are obliged to choose either manned or unmanned space exploration when we are NOT. We can and are best off doing *BOTH* and having these programs work together – they are complementary to each other NOT in competition with each other! Sigh. :roll:

    Because, in the current climate it is a zero sum game.

    Re Cheyenne @ #42

    It would appear that Mr. Messier and Dr. Plait and others in these parts who claim that Bob Park and, by extension, Steven Weinberg don’t know what they are talking about don’t think it’s so obvious.

  63. David C.

    This morning, in a presser regarding the SLS, Senator Kay Hutchinson, committed indirectly to the support of funding for the James Web Telescope; this in part, as a direct result of the philosophical basis for the reason for NASA’s being: To Explore New Environments and bring back the scientific Research and Development benefits to Earth;
    there will be fights over the NASA Budget, however, these principals have been accepted by the House and the Senate, in a bipartisan spirit, and while there will be cuts, the SLS, ISS and the JWST, will not be abandoned;
    That is the Gist of what she was saying; however, don’t sit on your laurels, we still need to be proactive in the Space Exploration and Science Community; Stick with it, until the job is finally done;



  64. HappyPig

    The SLS will be $15B a *launch* in the early years of testing, so why are we complaining about a paltry $7B 😉

    Cost estimate:,0,3595313.story

  65. fer1986

    Forget the money, today NASA has officially announced the SLS. I see they want to save Rocketdyne and ATK but not the JWST. SLS’ new appearance is like a kitbashed Saturn V and Ares I-V. Not so original.
    I wonder what Space-X could do with the Falcon Heavy with SLS’ budget…

  66. Keith Bowden

    “I can build it for $10 billion, but you don’t have 10 billion, so I’ll build it for you for $2.5.”
    “Mr. Scott, have you always factored your cost estimates by one quarter?”
    “Aye sir, how else can I win the contracts and keep my reputation as incompetent?”

    Hmm. Doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

  67. Infinite123Lifer

    QuietDesperation said:

    …Under the whole JWST debate are lots of political shenanigans that you or I will never even know about.—

    I do not wish to dwell on the “you or I will never even know about”, because it is just a part of Life, but it sure is sad that we are to never know how “elected officials and power people” play out their days. Its one thing to not understand how fusion can be harnessed, or if a rock is made of calcite, or if ghosts are real but these are real people doing real things affecting HUMANITY and WE STILL HAVENT FIGURED OUT THEIR GAME WELL ENOUGH TO PUT A STOP TO IT!!! it is a sad outrage.

    What I would like to focus on is the incredible passion with which reasonable people forge through seemingly vast and empty holes and pits of “unreasonableness”. For all the ones who continue to press the issues and find the answers amid the maelstrom of fraud and greed and insane priority making decisions I thank you.

    A side note to reading this blog: (to define reasonable is probably the most important discussion on any field, for it appears parties as well as individuals have a tough time if not impossible time determining “just what is reasonable”.)

    Messier Tidy Upper said:

    –After all, a Space Telescope is worth a thousand times to Humanity what any President or Congress could deliver!—

    If i were on my deathbed…I would want to see some pictures from outer space…just one more time, perhaps before or after being with my family. I think, I would want them to look with me, at the marvelousness of the observable nature of things. In fact, I know I would.

    Nobody had a clue what was out there. Nobody could have guessed. I wish it were simple enough that private funding could handle it. I survive off of 200$a month and I am willing to give 5 of it a month for Life to the JWST.

    In my naivety I hope there are other programs going as I think were mentioned in this blog which will continue to explore. They cant stop the explorers. They can only wish to get them caught up in their bs game of “HOW TO RUN A GOVERNMENT” and still make a ton of money for certain individuals and masses.

    Explorers, I got your back from the get go. And so do all the young and impressionable minds wondering what deck of cards the Universe is really playing with.

  68. David C.

    64. HappyPig Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 10:38 am

    The WSJ and the Orlando Sentinel articles were based on a leaked “preliminary” worst case scenario paper, that the Congress Presser spoke about and may be investigating for charges of sabotage; it was what spurred them in the past two days to push the WH and NASA to come clean with their reports which were ready and refused to release to the people, only those within congress, like Senators Hutchinson and Nelson, with the proviso that they not divulge the information; this information is on the record, check the Congress web site for the archived video; as well, the JWST is not to be defunded as I pointed out earlier, but of course no one cares to listen, just to push their rants;

  69. Infinite123Lifer

    55. David C. Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 8:53 pm
    REF #1 NASA Costing of Programs
    From Early Days of NASA it has normally taken years of development to get to a fabricated article, and while that has been happening research carries on; this has lead to a conflict whereby projects start out optimistically based on exiting research, only to have new research come along whereby, the project leaders are tempted into adding to the program (ie the Voyager Program a prime example) or replacing whole packages with new ones that have better metrics; it is a constant trade off;——-

    So in getting the JWST sound, safe and functional requires teams of people to come up with new solutions, new possibilities, updated methods and yet to be proposed generalities, new hind-sight-ical observations in a field with ever increasing variables and ever increasing fields of research. The difficulties are extremely tested over had coffee over, theorized and argued, voted, vetoed,vetted and betted over, chatted over and discussed over and briefed over dined over wined over and signed over in getting the metrics of the monumental task at hand correct, and in this case… getting the “greatest observatory instrument ever”, possibly the JWST in working order, responsibly above and beyond the clouds.

    -anybody think the Large Hadron Collider could deserve that title in comparison to my champion the Hubble, or the electron microscope or any other observatory detection device in history as the “Greatest Observatory Instrument of People”?

    63. David C. Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 8:58 am
    This morning, in a presser regarding the SLS, Senator Kay Hutchinson, committed indirectly to the support of funding for the James Web Telescope; this in part, as a direct result of the philosophical basis for the reason for NASA’s being: To Explore New Environments and bring back the scientific Research and Development benefits to Earth;
    there will be fights over the NASA Budget, however, these principals have been accepted by the House and the Senate, in a bipartisan spirit, and while there will be cuts, the SLS, ISS and the JWST, will not be abandoned;
    That is the Gist of what she was saying; however, don’t sit on your laurels, we still need to be proactive in the Space Exploration and Science Community; Stick with it, until the job is finally done;

    -The SLS, that is the 320 foot tall Space Launch System, Yes?

    -What is a presser?
    (a long awaited or belated press release or something?)

    -The philosophical basis for the reason for NASA’s being; plays a part, in decisions to “commit indirectly” to the support of funding for various projects? What does it mean when a Senator “commits indirectly”?

    -there will be fights over the NASA budget, however these principals have been accepted by the House and Senate.
    (which principals? NASA’s philosophical basis for its reason for being?)

    (and why is everybody fighting once again?, don’t answer that, it must be 2 or more passionate souls)

    A family of four can barely figure out what to have for dinner one night or “where that smell is coming from?”. 8 unhindered cows somewhere where cows are free cannot decide to go left or right or try the clover fields or what they should do with their new found freedom. Some dolphins develop a way to catch fish using tools. Mold is really really old. The records of history give us various “templates” in governing methods. It took all of human history to create the internet. It should be no wonder that three hundred million people cant decide what is ultimately and truly best for itself, both as an individual and as a whole even though it can see smaller and farther away than ever imagined…(brilliance is not without its sense of humor). Let alone 6 or 7 billion.

    If the JWST just does prove to be to “difficult” to succeed and other projects would have to suffer as a result from siphoning which has been kinda explained, than I suppose that is a possibility which must be considered. I would survive better knowing which projects exactly took the place of the JWST in hopes that they are just as awe inspiring and important to Humanity (and a better question would be “HOW” could “I” decide what is “the most beneficial projects to undergo in the name of humanity”). I would survive in knowing that some day it will most likely hopefully happen for future generations, and I would survive knowing that I just missed out on the greatest show in the Universe, while simultaneously being part of the greatest show.

  70. Undeniable

    Maybe NASA would be able to afford the JWST if it cut the budget for Earth Sciences (aka AGW), which I believe is the second largest area of spending…

  71. Helioprogenus

    Ethan Siegel has an update on this. The telescope has been saved, and apparently, although there are budget cuts to NASA funding, it’s not as deep as feared.

  72. QuietDesperation


    There is no “we.” Other people don’t value the same things you do, and come to different conclusions. They *want* the government to coddle them and they don’t give a tinker’s cuss how it happens or what affect that has on the world or the future.

  73. Infinite123Lifer

    If there is more than one person on Planet Earth than there is a we.
    Heck, if I am alone with a frog and a rock for long enough I look at them and go “what are we doing?” I even ask the bees “how are we doing today?” and yes I am keeping an eye on the bees, those swarmy little buggers, or as you put it “shifty little b@stards”.
    Though I do not know what the Staphylococcus are up to or how THEY are doing.

    So I will have to agree here for some QuietDesperation.

    I know people don’t all have the same values.

    I know people draw vastly different conclusions even from the same set of sensory input, let alone being in different places at different times!

    I personally know people who don’t care, in general about happenings, or futures or the worlds or anything. I know people who don’t care about themselves.

    By the way I really did want to delete the “we still haven’t figured out their game well enough to put a stop to it” comment immediately after I read it. I really wanted to delete some other things i have said, simply because it is impractical and wrong to bring up certain things in certain places. I am working on it. I still cannot locate the rules for this blog and it is driving me crazy.


    OMG, that sounds even worse, and I wish I could delete it. But there is an “I” at least. There might not be a GAME or a THEIR but I know there is an “I”.

    I hope I at least make you smile, perhaps even laugh. 😉
    “WE” have to stay positive though.

  74. David C.


    {Hey Brother, I’m retired, in Canada, in the region North of Niagara Falls, and I get by on 8000 a year, give or take a dollar, where the cost of living says I should get by on 25,000}
    Presser, is modern speech for Press Conference, whether video or audio;
    Not sure who WE are, but even less sure who THEY are 😉 but “I” don’t trust them any more than a rabid animal; not that I am a Libertarian (politics is something I gave up on in my 30’s, (read 1970’s) when we were constantly lied to (just as they are doing now) just to get in and stay in power) I have learned to keep my head down and listen to the rails 😉 been able to dodge a few train wrecks that way;

    -The philosophical basis for the reason for NASA’s being; plays a part, in decisions to “commit indirectly” to the support of funding for various projects? What does it mean when a Senator “commits indirectly”?
    What Senators did yesterday, was to take the founding articles upon which NASA was based (it’s constitution if you will) and go back to them for the reasoning for their proposals; To Explorer and Advance Science and Secure Mankind’s (the USA’s 😉 Economic and Strategic Security Into the Future; a fancy way to say, “to boldly go”
    Senator Hutchinson, in an addendum reply, to a question to Senator Nelson, added that the Committee in a bipartisan statement, upon the above principals pledged to keep the funding for SLS, Commercial Space, and the James Webb Telescope; she would NOT have mentioned the latter if it wasn’t agreed upon to fund it; as well, it was a message to the Congress, not to monkey around with the Senate Committee, and THIS ranking member who is head of the Committee writing the budget for the Senate, and will take it to the Joint Congressional Committee for reconciliation with the House Budget, and you can expect a fight; it isn’t over, but this Senator, is looking at it from the standpoint of her last term, and her legacy (read child, and as anyone knows, you don’t come between a mother and child 😉

    and as predicted:

    Article: Space dot Com
    Senate Panel Restores James Webb Space Telescope Funding
    Dan Leone, Space News
    Date: 16 September 2011 Time: 10:32 AM ET
    WASHINGTON — A U.S. Senate panel has proposed giving NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) about $150 million more for 2012 than the White House requested for the over budget project, which appropriators in the House of Representatives voted this summer to cancel.

    The additional funding for JWST amounts to a 40 percent increase for the project and is part of a 2012 spending bill approved Sept. 14 by the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee. Overall, the subcommittee’s bill would provide NASA with a total of $17.9 billion for 2012. That is about $500 million less than the agency got for 2011 and $800 million less than what U.S. President Barack Obama sought for NASA in the 2012 budget request he sent Congress in February.

    The Webb telescope, which was marked for cancellation in the $16.8 billion NASA spending bill the House Appropriations Committee approved in July, would receive $530 million next year under the Senate’s bill — about 40 percent more than the $374 million the Obama administration included for the project in its 2012 request. [Spectacular Hubble Telescope Photos]

    I know I haven’t answered all your questions, and in a lot of ways, I think we have a lot in common with regards to age and the way we think about the past and future; would be interesting to yak with you over a bottle of home made wine or mead;

    all I can say for now is,


    live long and prosper young grass hopper 😉
    and you’ll see that the best is yet to come;


  75. Infinite123Lifer

    Thank you for the explanation. God, I have lived in this country my entire Life. In 9th grade when I learned that a President could be voted in by the electoral college and only the electoral college despite what the popular vote said I just about puked. Being young and naive is a lot better than being “older” and naive & indeed I have NEVER been able to study politics. Not from the standpoints; of I should know, or I need to know, or these things effect us greatly, or I am a part of this whole deal, or darn it just to know HOW the system works. I have maintained excellent grades my entire Life and I still don’t have a clue about how the House, the Senate, the Congress and the President or how they work together….or should I say how they are always arguing over what is best for the future and always arguing over “what reality is”. Truly it is utterly frustrating; I know there must be a detailed and “fair” system for writing checks and balancing an economy, however because of the constant friction and the “nature of news media” I have never been able to invest time into decoding American politics. And rightfully so I believe, it is devastatingly a form of power which no one should yield to lightheartedly.

    Here I am now, wondering how the whole deal works; so that I can understand what happens to quite possibly the greatest telescope ever built, & I am relying on others to inform me of the process from which I have ducked and hid from my entire Life. I feel…like working harder.

    Its hard right here to say anything intelligent or useful, especially while having a horrid understanding of what I know about this apparently quite evident portion of the American Government and its relation to NASA and the telescope. I have a disgustingly bad understanding of politics in America, of how democracy actually works, or what the rules of different parts of a democracy are. In fact, my mind is so vividly imaginative I did not even register that the Senate has to bring something to the Congress. But that makes sense a little now in remembering all the fussing and fighting from various spectrums throughout my Life. And the explanations make sense when you actually pay attention to them.

    There is something which literally beckons my mind away from going down that “particular” area of the understanding and learning of the fundamentals of politics. There is an immediate instinctual suppression of any sensory input that comes through me in the form of politics that i just let it flow through without hindering my step in the slightest or paying 2 cents attention to what or why or how the Senate, The Congress, The House of Representatives or even the local levels work. I listen to the president, i listen to mayors and senators and i listen to some news but its more to gauge them as people by reading their demeanor and registering their quarks if you will, I don’t pretend to myself to know “whats really going on”.

    I am positive I know exactly why i stray from politics, that is:

    First, because even if i did understand every aspect of the procedures, I still would not know exactly what takes place…probably would not even have a fuzzy picture of what actually takes place. And in my mind that is paramount to wasting time to basically misconceive other peoples notions. Now, you could say the same thing about science that I “will never know ultimately” but I choose the natural world over the “evolutionarily created human workings of things”. Even though technically the Natural World would include everything…but I know what I mean :)

    Second, because people become so passionate about things which they are unsure of, or think they know or think they don’t know. People say the president this…the congress that, this senator this, that mayor this, the speaker this, this corporation that. Look, sure they said this or said that or shot the dude with a shotgun while hunting ducks or sumthin down in Texas but I “really” do not “know” people as well as I think I know them. And you don’t know someone based of what they say. You know them based on what they “DO AND SAY”, and what some of these people and companies “do” and then “say” is outright…………….unbelievable? or horrible.

    Thirdly, because I believe there is a huge criminal population which resides within the governments of the World. Both, in America and communist and democratic countries. I believe democracy is better than having no choice, but choosing between red apples or green apples (though a safe bet to have an apple) it is hardly a choice & there is always going to be bad apples. And, I am friends with people who grew up in Russia and at one point in my Life I stayed with a Chinese exchange student so I think i have a good understanding of how “good” it is here in America. Where there is mass money you will find mass corruption though. Currently I have no conceptions or ideas on how to govern a mass of people, and consequently should probably keep my thoughts to myself because of it. However, when some people see ignorance, they actually improve themselves. So, maybe I could serve a purpose here

    Fourthly, because there has to be that element of the populace who really are good people but frankly don’t care to try and stop the fight by fighting others. I am truly of the belief that the detrimental will always end themselves and the prosperous will always endure. i.e. bad folks take care of themselves in the long run. A sort of natural selection type deal. Or be good to your neighbor type deal. If i need to fight I will, if I see it I will defend it, but politics is shrouded in secrecy. I cant see who to fight.

    I just am having a hard time discerning this:

    Is the general aura of the Planet Earth leaning towards compassionate being, or is the aura of the Planet Earth being slowly consumed by massive unending doom. I believe that operations such as the James Webb Space Telescope can have superpower effects on the nature of that battle in the long run. I believe Hubble quite literally “saved” (for lack of a better word) many people from just thinking Life was not worth being here for.

    And I have a personal intimate relation to the JWST. When I first heard of it as a replacement for the Hubble back in 2008 or 2009 and they announced the original launch date I made a pact with myself to be “there” on that “day” of the “launch” holding my certificates of completion for the Oceanography program from the University of Washington, as a testament to myself and so that I could tell my children i was actually “there” when they launched it. I dropped out of school after holding a 4.0 for just 2 years due to not being able to use my writing hand, and the JWST has yet to be launched. I still would have had some time. I still have time to make my dreams come true and still coincide it with the launch of this telescope (ha). I know it may be silly, but its the truth. I actually had the hand-written date of the launch and my studies all timed out and signed by me with my father as a witness that I would be there at the launch with my degrees of completion. (how naive)

    My car was stolen by some “addicts” i think while I was homeless going to school and all my journals and that “note 2 self with launch date and studies completion” were taken and probably burned. But I never forgot. And that is what matters.

    I have said some ignorant things looking over this gigananormous post. I do not necessarily know how to phrase things any different or if I should. Part of me just wants to delete everything but the first paragraph. But there it is. I can only hope that it helps someone find the truth or be less ignorant or understand that there are people like this in the world. It is an odd thing to blog. Despite my promises at getting better, I just digressed. But this is old news now and perhaps it wont be read.

  76. Infinite123Lifer

    Perhaps it is the headline “The watershed moment for JWST” which has caused this blaring open honesty of what little I know and understand.

    The world is so relative. My perspectives are so limited.

  77. David C.

    to Infinite123Lifer
    I was born at the end of the WW2, and that has always coloured my thinking, because of the HUGE impact of the war on history and the advancement of science; then the post war expansion of Science, Social Interactions, and Just Growing-up in that era, had me trying to understand what was happening and got me interested in History and Science; I am not overly educated, no papers hidden away in some dusty room of a University hold my name or accomplishments in learning; as immigrants after the war, we remained on the rationing philosophy that had sustained my Grand-parents through The Great Depression in Europe, and the War Years; as with you, I have had the privilege to meet a lot of people of extreme and various backgrounds and personal histories; while history books are written for and by the majority, it is the small actions / choices of individuals and how they live their lives that added together give weight to that history; never discount your life’s history, and the part you played in the making of the Broader History; YOU WERE THERE!! whether by acts of commission, or omission, you influenced the course of World History; unless you lived your life completely isolated from your fellow man, from birth to death, you have had an impact on others;
    knowing or understanding “politics” or “the rules of the game”, is difficult; I grew up in a politicized home environment; and while I didn’t understand the rules, I learned that the very essence of politics is the discussion around the dinning / kitchen table; the sharing of thoughts and feelings about society is the grist of the mill; sharing, with judgment, and emotions yes, but without anger or fear, seeing the other person’s point of view;
    but now, there is less room for dialogue, people are polarized in extremes of thought, and don’t want to listen to each other; the loudest voice is right; if everyone else is doing it, then I should be doing it (never forget my 11 yr old dau. telling us, “Everyone else is dating, why can’t I??” and remembering my own father’s reply to such a question, “If everyone is jumping off cliffs, do you think you should be doing it too?”}
    you may not realize this, though you probably know that all news is controlled, there is no such thing as a free press; whether it is the politicians, the military or the owners of the companies, someone is controlling what you read, see or listen too; and the headlines in the papers in particular are not chosen by the author’s of the articles that they trumpet; the headlines are selected by individuals charged with the job of getting your attention; I’m not saying that Phil didn’t choose that headline; in this case, I think he did, and it isn’t a bad headline; but next time you read a newspaper online or on paper, ask yourself, who is trying to manipulate my thoughts here; as one person pointed out in the discussion over the successor to the Space Shuttle, follow the money trail, and you’ll understand; Science is 80% money / politics and 20% science these days; it doesn’t matter how good your science is, if you don’t have the money and political dominoes lined up, then it isn’t likely your getting anywhere;
    just as an aside, away from politics, I have seen people with severe disabilities get degrees, paraplegics and blind, deaf; it is just a case of finding the funding; sure, America is different than Canada, but it does go by the motto, “The Land of Opportunity” surly there must be a way for you to get your degree. fulfill your dream; my dreams are 1) to be a 21st Century David Thoreau 😉 2) be at the launch of the next US HSF mission to the BEO 😉 Cheers, Chin up, this TOO shall pass, screamed the woman in heavy labour 😉

    ps my family is from the London Docks, Southwark (500+ years of bad history there) and in a class ridden system, we looked up to the East Enders as something to aspire to LOL forget the Toffs in the West End of London; Goerings “Demolition Co.” aka the Luftwaffe did us a favour by getting us kicked out 😉

  78. Infinite123Lifer

    Thank you for that :)
    I am aware of the controlling medium throughout the press and that others have agenda’s which are not known and possibly will never be known to someone like me or even the world or its history perhaps. What will be known is that people know that.

    I believe that history needs to be written with a successor to the Hubble. When you mentioned that no matter what (unless your a hermit for Life) you always contribute to history . . . the broader history if only. I believe that Hubble has contributed more to what will be history (in terms of . . . perceptions) than any other invention or instrument ever. I know you were talking about people when shaping history and importantly how ALL of us take a part in that shaping; but in this case what the Hubble does “to” people is on such a fundamentally basic scientific level that it must continue. It is simply too overwhelming to look into the sky and See All that there is to see. Many people are changed forever from one photograph. Many many people. I ll keep my head up and my mind positive :)

    Cheers David C


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