July 7, 2011

Is This The End For NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope?

Lawmakers working out the 2012 budget may be putting an end to NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA's next-generation space telescope was supposed to be the successor to Hubble and the space agency's biggest post-shuttle project.

Lawmakers still face many hurdles in the next couple weeks trying to approve the measure.

The House Appropriations Committee released its 2012 Commerce, Justice and Science funding bill today, ahead of a scheduled committee meeting.

The proposal provides $50.2 billion overall for the nation's projects in those areas, which is $7.4 billion less than President Obama's budget request. 

NASA's budget is slashed by $1.6 billion, which is $1.9 billion less than Obama hopes for.  The space agency's science funding has been cut by $431 million from last year.

"The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management," an Appropriations Committee press release said.

Fox News reported that in November, a congressional panel described the telescope as "NASA's Hurricane Katrina," due to it being massively over budget and its destructive toll on other agency projects.

Goddard Space Flight Center said last week that the telescope may not launch until after 2018.

Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told the New York Times that canceling the Webb telescope would "have a profound impact on astrophysics far into the future, threatening U.S. leadership in space science."

"This is particularly disappointing at a time when the nation is struggling to inspire students to take up science and engineering," he added.

According to Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the committee, the measure is expected to be approved Thursday by the subcommittee in charge of NASA and the other agencies.

The full Appropriations Committee will meet again next Wednesday to consider the final bill.


Image Caption: Six of the James Webb Space Telescope beryllium mirror segments undergoing a series of cryogenic tests at the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given


On the Net: