James Webb Space Telescope Closer to the Axe

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This could be considered “strike two” for the deeply troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Last week, the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee made the recommendation that the advanced infrared space telescope — and Hubble’s replacement — be cancelled. On Wednesday, the full House Science, Space and Technology Committee has approved the subcommittee’s plan.

ANALYSIS: Eroding NASA Science: Space Telescope Scrapped?

Although the project isn’t dead yet, the 2012 budget still needs to be voted on by the House an the Senate, but things are looking grim.

Despite a last minute appeal to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Tuesday, the Republican-dominated committee were unmoved.

“I have tried to explain what I think is the importance of James Webb, in terms of opening new horizons far greater than we got from Hubble,” Bolden told the committee members. “I would only say that for about the same cost as Hubble in real-year dollars, we’ll bring James Webb into operation.”

Also, in a last-ditch attempt on Wednesday to breathe life into the project, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California whose district covers NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. in Pasadena, Calif., tried to insert an amendment that would have partially restored funding, redirecting $200 million from NASA’s account for Cross Agency Support. The amendment was shot down by a voice vote.

$3 billion has already been sunk into the project and components for the space telescope are undergoing space-readiness tests. Unfortunately, the projected 6.8 billion final price tag — plus mismanagement troubles — has attracted budget-cutting lawmakers.

Should JWST be cancelled, the $3 billion already invested will be lost. Seems like quite a big waste for NASA’s already grossly underfunded budget, doesn’t it?

The scientific returns on the JWST would be incalculable; but to politicians, science takes a distant second to budget cutting and political points scoring.

So what can we do apart from keep our fingers crossed that funding will magically appear? Contact your Representative to keep the pressure applied to keep JWST alive, lawmakers have yet to nail the project’s coffin shut with a final vote.

Image credit: NASA

Special thanks to Phil Plait for the tip-off of today’s news.

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