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James Web Space Telescope  (Source: Discovery News)
Hubble's replacement could be killed after years and billions invested

It has been a very long time since the project to replace the Hubble Space Telescope with a new and higher tech device began. Like many other projects that NASA has been working on and projects at other government sponsored facilities, things are under the knife as Washington seeks to cut every ounce of fat from the budget for next year.

One of the projects that NASA is running is the replacement for the Hubble called the James Web Space Telescope. The JWST was unveiled back in May of 2007 and at the time, it was said that the program had met technical and cost schedules for the previous 20 months of development. Somewhere between 2007 and today the program went significantly off course and has come under the knives of politicians looking to trim more budgetary fat.

Discovery News reports that last week the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee recommend that the JWST program be cancelled. Yesterday the full House Science, Space, and Technology committee approved the subcommittee's plans to cancel the program.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a plea to the committee to keep the JWST alive at the last minute. Bolden said, "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. I would only say that for about the same cost as Hubble in real-year dollars, we'll bring James Webb into operation."

An amendment to the budget that would have sent another $200 million to the project was voted down. So far the JWST has gobbled up $3 billion and all of that money will be lost if the project is cancelled. The program is estimated to cost $6.8 billion when complete so the cancellation would save over $3 billion.


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RE: $6.8B
By JediJeb on 7/14/2011 1:07:35 PM , Rating: 2
What I have never understood about Congress on things like this is that even if the budget this year needs to be cut, why cancel a project and more or less throw away money already spent when they could put a one year hold on it instead? Why not put in the appropriations bill that this would be defunded for one year with it automatically being returned to the budget next year?

If I spent a bunch of money building a house and ran out of money when I only needed to put in windows, siding and the interior, I would never just walk away from that investment and let it fall apart. I would put in just enough to keep it alive until I could fund the completion. But I guess most of Congress has so much money themselves they would not think of just throwing it away, because if they ever need more they just vote themselves a raise at the expense of everything else. With all this budget wrangling going on I have yet to see them suggest a pay cut for Congress and the President.


RE: $6.8B
By MrTeal on 7/14/2011 1:13:24 PM , Rating: 5
It doesn't work like that, I'm afraid. You have fixed costs on labs, employees, facilities. You can't just take all the parts and store them in a shed in the back, or tell the employees that there's no money in the budget to pay you this year, so some of you can go work over here, and some of you take a year off and we'll see you in the next fiscal year. It gets even more complicated when working with contractors.

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the way to get the lowest total cost is to raise the budget to where it should have been in the first place. You can spend say $500M for the next 4 years and then launch, or $400M for the next 6 years, or $300M for the next 10. Either way it would get up there, but it's cheaper and gets done faster if you just bite the bullet and fund it properly.


RE: $6.8B
By JediJeb on 7/14/2011 2:06:22 PM , Rating: 3
I guess some private group should pickup the project and finish it then recover the cost by selling time on it for research, which of course would be paid for by grants from the government. That way the government still pays for it just in a more wasteful drawn out way. That would make Congress totally giddy since it is exactly what they like to do.


RE: $6.8B
By Jaybus on 7/15/2011 2:13:28 PM , Rating: 2
They know they have to make cuts. The main concern, when making cuts, is not pissing off the wrong people. NASA gets beat up during budget cuts simply because less people are immediately affected. Cuts in entitlement programs are potentially disastrous, not sometime in the future due to lack of technical progress, but right now, due to angry protestors/voters. Disastrous, of course, meaning that they would be unlikely to remain in office.


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