The James Webb Space Telescope is large, overbudget and in a category of its own.
And now stirring over some controversy as the reality of science funding starts smacking scientists in the face.

Last year, as I’m, sure you remember, the JWST funding line was take out of the Astrophysics Division and segregated in its own division, a funding maneuver that has been used before for large overruning projects.
This, incidentally, brutally exposed how tight the space science budgets have been squeezed, partly through overruns, partly through tough little missions hanging on longer than planned, with catastrophic success, and partly because there are just cumulative overcommitments that NASA has made but not received the commensurate funding for (yes, I’m looking at you Sofia…).

So, here at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society, this is actually not an issue, we astronophysicists are far too busy partying non-confrontational and diplomatic to make it so.
But. There are journalists.

“James Webb Space Telescope squeezing budget, NASA official says” (latimes).
Oh, really?
“…now we’re not going to get the next ultraviolet mission for another 20 years. It’s the same with the X-ray people. Because NASA’s lost its way.”

Fortunately, we had the Honourable Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Vice-Chair of the House Science Committee, here at the AAS wednesday night to tell the community as it is.
It was a full and frank discussion, somewhat derailed by the questions, and Jeff Foust of committed some journalism
– “After the talk, (Foust) asked Rohrabacher about one particular issue of interest to those attending the AAS meeting: the James Webb Space Telescope. He indicated he wasn’t confident that the program was back on track after cost and schedule overruns. “We will hold hearings on that early on, and we’ll find out” how well it’s doing, he said, referring to the House Science Committee, of which he is the new vice-chairman.”

Well, that could get interesting.

Garth on JWST funding from way back when


  1. #1 Ben
    January 10, 2013

    I am going to say something not very nice. I have lost a lot of sympathy for people like the person quoted in the article who says “I’m an ultraviolet guy [and we won't get a new UV satelllite] … Because NASA’s lost its way.” I am sure he is a fine fellow and I don’t like to criticize, but in an age of constricted budgets, you have to be flexible and you better define yourself by science interests, not by wavelength. It’s fine to say I study hot stars, or QSO absorption lines, and UV is a critical ingredient of that. But you should be prepared to find some other avenue for doing science, if the device you want gets ranked at a lower priority. There is a ton of data out there. People who are flexible can take advantage of this. People who have gotten used to a steady stream of NASA grant money because they worked in a wavelength regime that is exclusively NASA’s, had it good, and now they might not.

  2. #2 Eli Rabett
    January 13, 2013

    It’s the fox or hedgehog problem, does NASA act like a fox and do a lot of missions each of which is not very expensive in relative terms or does NASA act like a hedgehog and do one big mission. The choice has been made and we have to live with it.