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Should We Continue to Fund the James Webb Telescope?

By February 4, 2012

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When most people think about astronomy they almost immediately picture beautiful images of nebulae, galaxies and star clusters. The primary reason they are able to visualize these objects is because of the amazing work of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The detail with which we can appreciate the heavens has increased significantly in the last couple decades since the commissioning of that historic observatory.

Hubble is now entering the final stages of its operational life; there are no more repair missions, no more upgrades. Once this orbiting telescope fails, it is done forever.

Anticipating this, NASA has been hard at work to have a replacement ready. The James Webb Telescope was intended to pick up where Hubble left off, too peer deeper into the Universe, to see with greater detail what lay around us in this great expanse.

But such advanced technology comes at a price. A big price. Estimated to cost about $2.5 billion and be launched around 2013, the cost has ballooned to nearly $9 billion with a launch date likely in 2018.

And with a completion date so distant the cost could yet again rise. This begs the question, is it worth it?

I have to admit that I am conflicted on this one. Generally I am all for pure scientific research; it is in our nature as humans to seek to understand the Universe around us and to seek discovery, even when a practical application isn't readily obvious.

On the other hand this project was been plagued by mismanagement and waste. And I am certainly not in favor of rewarding such actions with additional funding, especially in this economic climate. Not to mention that the project trajectory is still uncertain and could, yet again, spiral out of control.

A quandary then. I am going to open this up to you all. Read here for more details on this topic and share your thoughts in the comments below.

Engineers working on the mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope; Credit: NASA

Comments

February 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm
(1) cMEgo says:

They’ve gone this far with it, closing it down now would seem more of a waste than just finishing it & getting it out there working. If they need money, I’m sure there’s a multi-bazzionaire out there someplace willing to give them all the money they need if they paint a name or logo on it’s side or on the pictures it makes public.

:)

February 4, 2012 at 7:24 pm
(2) Dan Ibekwe says:

Set against a 14 trillion budget deficit, $9 bn almost seems like small change.

And, as the UK has discovered, once you open up the prospect of unlimited social spending, it becomes next to impossible for democratic politicians to spend money on anything else.

That’s why our last administration proudly tripled spending on our National Health Service over the course of thirteen years. It’s also why we never had a space programme, and now no longer have a functioning navy.

The choice, I suspect, is not JWST now or later. It’s now or not at all.

Dan Ibekwe

Manchester UK

February 5, 2012 at 4:40 am
(3) Robb says:

So who is “WE” that is funding this. Maybe I’m in the dark on this. Is it publicly funded and how much a year?

February 5, 2012 at 10:05 am
(4) chaya says:

everybody has to right to know about our universe. if funding is the only problem then we shoul also think about this: the nations spends most of the money in defence P.S: no country is facing any wars currently. there must no problem in funding for JWST. more over we cannot conclude that this project maynot serve humanity in any ways because it a replacement project of the hubble. it is here to continue its purpose. we sure mustn’t forget the contributions of hubble to space science.

February 5, 2012 at 10:33 am
(5) Maggie says:

It is money well-spent,
YES continue to fund the JWST.

February 5, 2012 at 11:23 am
(6) David C says:

without reading the article, or any of the comments, let me just say, that since the time of Galileo Galilei and the beginning ot telescopic astronomy, every advance in technological design of telescopes has incrementally advanced our understanding of the Cosmos. To stop now would be the worst thing that mankind as a species could do. This is no different than the Hadron Collider, and will have just as big an impact on our understanding of the Universe and our place in it, and will be the basis on which our grand children develop their lives. This is not an investment for our generation, but future generations. Cutting the funding for JWST, Robotic and Human Space Exploration, or the Partical Colliders, (which the US did, failing to compete with the Europeans) will steal from our descendants the quality of their future..

February 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm
(7) JERRELL says:

Identify those responsible for the waste and mismanagement and fire them, then that excuse for not continuing goes away.

February 6, 2012 at 12:37 am
(8) Andrew Gasser says:

We did get the head of SMD fired – Mr. Weiler. However, it still does not address the fact that the United States is shutting down its Mars exploration program.

NASA is being crushed under the gravity of its own bureaucracy.

Respectfully,
Andrew Gasser
TEA Party in Space

February 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm
(9) anthony pattersonn says:

Understanding and knowing about the universe is one of the most important reasons to fund this and every project concerning where man will live next.

February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm
(10) John says:

I hope that when the telescope is set to operate properly in the sky, they start to prepare for another -for another because human is intelligent and want to know more and more. The universe is infinite-no beginning or end- is always in the present-

February 6, 2012 at 10:00 pm
(11) JH Guth says:

Our space observatories are our only chance to pick up earth-targeted catastrophes. They are orders of magnitude more sensitive than anything we can build on the surface. And sensitivity equates to a much earlier warning system in some cases so that we may be able to mitigate the damage that will ultimately head our way. A global apocolyptic event of any kind, asteroid or comet impact, solar coronal mass ejections, or whatever it ultimately is, will make any of our current crop of penny-pinching arguments just plain stupid in comparison. If we have to cut costs, it should be in the ground-based programs and not in the space-based observatories, robotic explorers, satellites or manned space programs. In this inevitability, we will very likely have to put astronauts in space to service those observatories and deflect those hazards.

February 7, 2012 at 9:53 am
(12) Jack Fanning says:

2 quotes from Winston Churchill:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Why not let the UN build it?

February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm
(13) leslippe says:

Dr Tyson says this is a vastly and urgently necessary step in mankind’s knowledge and awareness and I for one, am not smart enough to disagree.
I did do the math on the 30 year cost of the Shuttle and to my amazement, given that it was cancelled due to ‘cost’ – the total expense came in at well under one dollar per person.

February 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm
(14) Tony C. says:

When Mr. Sherlock Holmes was told about the Copernican Theory he explained that he did not wish his brain to be filled with useless facts, and said that : “I shall do my best to forget it “. I am not going that far, but if we put pressure on the Astronomy world they may well produce a much lower cost PLAN B. On the planet Earth World of Economics (EWOE) economic returns are important, and should not be ignored

February 28, 2012 at 12:44 am
(15) gewisn says:

Can we just sent Newt Gingrich with a polaroid?

March 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm
(16) David says:

I say bring the troops hame from Afghanistan and use the savings from that to finish the telescope.

May 7, 2012 at 6:37 am
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