I have some thoughts on Webb over at Pajamas Media this morning.
Great article. Webb has put many scientists out of business, including an acquaintance of mine (husband of a good friend) at JPL. This is onstark contrast to the lean, mean success story of Webb’s predecessor, Spitzer.
Originally, Spitzer was proposed as a behemoth Great Observatory which had to be launched on a Titan IV. The spacecraft was to cost $2 billion, and the launch another billion. NASA HQ looked and said “get it under a billion, and make it fit a Delta II, or the program is over right now.”
Through extremely clever design, JPL came up with an $800 million bird that not only met all of the original performance specs, but fit on a Delta II. It’s now past its primary mission life, having run out of LHe, but is still doing warm infrared work, having recently spotted graphene flakes in space.
This is a topic that will erupt somewhat violently in the next month or so as Congress faces up to the FY12 appropriations legislation, and the whack at JWST that the House took on it comes full circle.
Violently, because the astronomy community will erupt with reflexive wailing about termination of JWST, and other communities (other science and human space flight) will erupt with pain at the prospect of JWST pillaging their funds for the next six or seven years. Astronomers will look down their noses at those dumb congressfolk who, they naively assume, just can’t understand what great science JWST represents.
I’m an astronomer, and my science would be strongly helped by JWST. I was a very strong supporter of it. But it has turned into a fiscal black hole, and over the years has sucked up an ever increasing amount of cash and opportunities for other missions. Why, a week or two ago it was half done. Now it’s a lot less than that! If we keep it, it will be at the expense of other communities, who will quite properly eventually look for payback. Big payback. That’s what we’ll bequeath to our younger community members. If we don’t keep it, what we lose is precisely JWST science. Not necessarily SIM science, LISA science, or WFIRST science. All tremendous science. Yes, those were the missions that were going to get killed or indefinitely postponed as JWST kept sucking.
The “myth”, as it is being blathered, is that JWST money could never be reassigned to other astronomy missions. It’s not a myth. That money can and should be reassigned. Sure, that reassignment isn’t going to happen all by itself, but if the astronomy community is smart, it’ll work work Congress to organize a suite of missions that can follow up on a regrettable but responsible termination to restore science productivity to the division. Those missions could well produce science before JWST would have. See, Congress wants to punish JWST management, not astronomy.
It is, in fact, troubling, that our ESA and CSA compatriots will get stiffed if we cancel JWST, but one hopes there are other ways to compensate them scientifically and regain their trust for future collaborations.
The astronomy community has to grapple with the possibility that Rep. Wolf, who reluctantly redlined JWST, may actually have been doing us a big favor. Congress thinks very highly of JWST science. That’s why they’ve spent $3.5B on it thus far! What they can’t stand are managerial train wrecks, which JWST has repeatedly exemplified.
What they can’t stand are managerial train wrecks, which JWST has repeatedly exemplified.
Couldn’t that be solved by firing the top two levels of management? In my opinion that needs to happen whatever is decided.
There are already people drawing parallels to the Texas SSC cancellation, and the purported loss of American leadership in high energy physics.
Maybe the A-12 cancellation would be more apt, canceled before it could devour the Navy’s budget.
Webb has put many scientists out of business, including an acquaintance of mine (husband of a good friend) at JPL. This is onstark contrast to the lean, mean success story of Webb’s predecessor, Spitzer.
This touches on another problem for Webb. NASA is promoting it as the successor to Hubble, not Spitzer. That may come back to bite them at some point.
Hubble is hugely popular because of the visible-light images it returns. That popularity makes the pricetag politically acceptable.
As an IR telescope, Webb won’t produce the same sort of images. I’m not sure if false-color infrared images will cut it, especially when a lot of new-generation ground-based telescopes will be returning Hubble-quality images at the same time.
A project as expensive as Hubble or JWST can’t be justified on the basis of “great science” alone. It also needs public support.
As an aside, I’ve never understood why NASA decided to go ahead with JWST instead of Terrestrial Planet Finder.
I can’t think of anything in space science that had as much potential to excite the public as TPF did.
up to $6.8 billion for a telescope?
What we need are thousands of light blockers (make them round so orientation doesn’t matter, black with radio transponders for locating.) They can become navigation beacons for later commercial uses. These rubber balls would cost less than a dollar a piece. One launch could send about ten thousand of them to be scattered through the asteroid belt (local gravitation helping to scatter them further.)
Then lots of cheaper telescopes that can work together. Each perhaps the size of one of the eighteen mirrors on the JWST which makes them smaller than the Hubble. Working together, spaced apart and at different wavelengths they could produce a ton more data than JWST and I bet I could finance an indefinite program with no further funding.
I could get a lot of science done with $6.8b. Stuff that would get the average person excited.
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