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