JWST cancellation proposed

Breaking news via old chum Suthers on Twitter  stating that JWST is on the brink of cancellation. There is a story at Space News, and a reaction posted by Bill Smith, president of AURA. Suthers wrote a rather prescient post on Skymania back in April. (Before updating I thought this post was new ! Sorry Paul.)

Its all tangled up with Obama versus the Republicans and the US budget deficit cap etc. Obama made a budget request for NASA of almost eighteen and a half billion. But the relevant House Appropriations Committee, for commerce, justice and science, has proposed a draft budget almost 2 billion less, and specifically proposed cutting JWST. The proposed budget gets formally voted on by the committee tomorrow.

Jeez. Who understands the system ? Whats the odds now ?


– Lots of Twitter activity

– Sarah K has also blogged it.

– The House Committee press release is here. If you are too lazy to click through, here is an extract :

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $16.8 billion in the bill, which is $1.6 billion below last year’s level and $1.9 billion below the President’s request. This funding includes:

  • $3.65 billion for Space Exploration which is $152 million below last year. This includes funding above the request for NASA to meet Congressionally mandated program deadlines for the newly authorized crew vehicle and launch system.
  • $4.1 billion for Space Operations which is $1.4 billion below last year’s level. The legislation will continue the closeout of the Space Shuttle program for a savings of $1 billion.
  • $4.5 billion for NASA Science programs, which is $431 million below last year’s level. The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.

National Science Foundation (NSF) – The legislation funds NSF at $6.9 billion, the same as last year’s level and $907 million below the President’s request. Within this funding, NSF’s core research is increased by $43 million to enhance basic research that is critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness.

Another update : post on Nature News blog summarises the situation well. There are several more stages to go, so don’t panic yet. But gird your loins.

71 Responses to JWST cancellation proposed

  1. Bill Keel says:

    A quick check shows that the committee’s counterpart in the Senate (with whom agreement must eventually be found) includes the Senators from GSFC and MSFC, the latter of whom is from my town. I gotta go make a phone call.

  2. Memories of the SSC… damn. No way to run a science programme.

  3. […] The James Webb Space Telescope, having gone so far over budget that large swathes of NASA’s science program has been shelved to make room for it, is now in danger of being cancelled. […]

  4. […] The James Webb Space Telescope, having gone so far over budget that large swathes of NASA’s science program has been shelved to make room for it, is now in danger of being cancelled. […]

  5. I remember being at Rutherford in March looking at the MIRI instrument for JWST. I’m sure it is much cheaper not to cancel…otherwise it is just wasted money. In 5 years time the tech could be outdated…

  6. […] already extensive reaction to the JWST crisis around the blogosphere: see, for example, Andy Lawrence, Sarah Kendrew, and Amanda Bauer; I’m sure there are many […]

  7. Martin says:

    So maybe I move in the wrong circles, but I’m not sure I know anyone who is very excited by the prospect of the JWST… Setting aside the sunk costs and the political implications of NASA budget cuts in general, what would your argument be for why the astro community ought to be getting behind JWST?

  8. andyxl says:

    Well Martin, I don’t think someone before who wasn’t excited by the prospect of JWST ! At high redshift, IR is the only way to go, and MIRI gives the prospect of some real astrophysics with those IR sourcess – i.e. proper spectra.

  9. Nick Cross says:

    There is a statement from Garth Illingworth linked here:

  10. Sarah says:

    @Martin What Andy said. If your science has any kind of infrared component to it, and I’m not sure what you could work on that doesn’t, you should most definitely get behind JWST. The instrumental capabilities and sensitivity are really quite spectacular – even with the delayed launch date it will be a huge leap over its contemporaries.

    @Nick That link isn’t publicly available. Is it posted anywhere else, or can you copy it somewhere?

    • Dave says:

      While I agree intellectually with your comments on the power and capability of JWST in the infrared, I have to say that I have found it very difficult to get excited about it as the launch date has continued to recede into the indefinite future. If things continue as they are, we could have SPICA, Gaia, Euclid, EELT, SKA precursors. ALMA and much much more before JWST even gets off the ground.

      So yes – it should be great, but the wait is killing my enthusiasm.

    • Phil Uttley says:

      The problem is that although people see the clear value of using IR and the advances made by JWST (which is relevant to all sorts of work), they don’t want to see this at the expense of a balanced programme of missions covering all the wavelengths that astronomers need to observe from space. That’s why there is a backlash against JWST, if it hadn’t gone way over budget everyone would love it unconditionally!

      That said, it looks like this cut would just take money away from astrophysics without putting any back elsewhere in the programme (unless the future savings are significant and can be put back in). So I don’t think anyone can be happy about this situation. Especially when you consider all the money being spent on things not exactly conducive to human progress…

  11. Nick Cross says:

    Hi Folks:

    The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2012

    Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill.

    NASA loses nearly $2B in total of which $431 is lost from NASA Science and

    terminate JWST. The Space science part:

    “$4.5 billion for NASA Science programs, which is $431 million below last

    year’s level. The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space

    Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor


    Note that the money is LOST COMPLETELY from Astrophysics and Space Science.

    It is for deficit reduction. This is as expected. Every time an astronomy

    program has been terminated or reduced over the last few years,

    Astrophysics has lost the funding. Terminating JWST would the same –

    Astrophysics loses all the funding. Yet this termination would go beyond

    what has happened over the last few years – the funds would be lost to

    Space Science and NASA also….

    This is not the last word. The House Appropriations Subcommittee will

    consider this bill tomorrow. And the Senate will also have a separate bill

    on NASA funding. However, in the present climate this step puts the

    centerpiece of astronomy’s future at great risk.

    JWST and Astrophysics has entered a very dangerous zone.

    The impacts are numerous if JWST is terminated:

    1) termination is very damaging for future astronomy and astrophysics

    scientific productivity and for the pre-eminence of US science;

    2) termination would result in no observatory-class mission to carry out

    broadly-based research when the current Great Observatories reach


    3) termination undercuts the Decadal Survey process since it was the top

    ranked program in the prior 2000 Decadal Survey, and it is identified

    numerous times in the 2010 Decadal Survey as a foundational program for

    future astrophysics research;

    4) termination of JWST, as the natural successor to Hubble, would result

    in the loss, once Hubble fails, of a very large part of the remarkable

    public interest that astronomy has enjoyed;

    5) termination would eliminate a major source of inspirational science

    education and outreach results, particularly for the interest in STEM

    (science, technology, engineering and math) that comes from the high

    profile HST and JWST science results;

    6) termination would reduce the strength and visibility world-wide of the

    US science program, not just astrophysics;

    7) termination would reduce US credibility as an international partner

    given the Canadian and European partnership on JWST and their substantial

    contributions to the program;

    8) termination of JWST, following on from the termination of the SSC

    (Superconducting Super Collider), would send the message that the US is

    relinquishing leadership in major science projects — it will be very

    difficult to start any other major science project or mission;

    9) termination would eliminate the broadly-based research funding for the

    community that results from the Great Observatory-class missions if none

    are operating, and greatly reduces opportunities for undergraduate,

    graduate and post-graduate education;

    It is essential that we make our voices heard.

    It is particularly crucial that we each act quickly and email, fax or call

    our local House Representatives and also contact our Senators.

    The loss of JWST will affect us all. It will damage the prospects for

    Astronomy for a decade or more.

    Please use any of these points in your own words and any other good

    arguments that you can think of…

    Please distribute widely to your department members and colleagues.






    House Appropriations Committee

    Chairman Hal Rogers

    Website address: http://appropriations.house.gov/

    For Immediate Release: July 6, 2011

    Contact: Jennifer Hing, (202) 226-7007

    Appropriations Committee Releases the Fiscal Year 2012 Commerce, Justice,

    Science Appropriations Bill

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Appropriations Committee today released the

    fiscal year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which will

    be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The bill funds the Department of

    Commerce, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space

    Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other

    related agencies.


    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at

    $16.8 billion in the bill, which is $1.6 billion below last year’s level

    and $1.9 billion below the President?s request. This funding includes:

    $3.65 billion for Space Exploration which is $152 million below

    last year. This includes funding above the request for NASA to meet

    Congressionally mandated program deadlines for the newly authorized crew

    vehicle and launch system.

    $4.1 billion for Space Operations which is $1.4 billion below

    last year’s level. The legislation will continue the closeout of the Space

    Shuttle program for a savings of $1 billion.

    $4.5 billion for NASA Science programs, which is $431 million

    below last year’s level. The bill also terminates funding for the James

    Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued

    by poor management.

  12. telescoper says:

    If we’d known a decade ago that JWST was going to cost nearly $7bn (instead of $1.5bn) and not be launched until 2018 at the earliest, who would have supported it?

    • andyxl says:

      Peter – many years ago, if we’d known how delayed (and thus more expensive) HST was going to be, then in a similar way, a large number of people might have said “ahh.. maybe I won’t vote for that after all”. But wind forward another couple of decades, and look at what HST has achieved both scientifically and in public PR terms, and those same people would be saying “phew .. glad we were brave enough to cough up”. Every single round is ten times oversubscribed. Not for a short mission note, but year after year after year/

      Of course this argument by analogy relies on JWST being as revolutionary as HST. Its a gamble, but its SO much more sensitive than any previous facility, its a good bet.

      • Albert Zijlstra says:

        The questions to ask are, whether a telescope which would be revolutionary in the 2010’s, would have as big an impact in the 2020’s, and at what cost? As an infrared astronomer, I am excited about JWST, but if it is post-2020, I would probably prefer a smaller telescope a bit earlier. The cost is not only financiallly (what will the final cost be? Probably not the one currently predicted), but also in other facilities: what do we need to sacrifice to keep JWST? Will WFIRST require a name change?

        If canceled, the money is lost to astronomy. But if not canceled, the future cost overruns is also money lost to astronomy. Once you become hostage to major project, yo can’t win.

        Let’s hope common sense prevails. I want JWST – but I also want the SKA, the ELT, etc, which cost a fraction of JWST.

  13. andyxl says:

    Anybody know what happened to the subcommittee vote ?

  14. Keith says:

    There is a fascinating airing of JWST dirty linen in the third comment to the story at http://www.spacepolitics.com/2011/07/07/initial-reactions-to-the-house-nasa-budget-proposal/

    • andyxl says:

      Wow .. that is seriously fascinating. Quite a few of the other comments are pretty gripping too. Who is Tom ? If thats what he says on the interwebs, what would we get with the door shut ?

  15. […] at Cosmic VarianceRisa at Cosmic VarianceAmanda BauerThe e-astronomerSean Carroll at Cosmic VarianceSarah AskewSpace NewsThe New York […]

  16. […] at Cosmic VarianceRisa at Cosmic VarianceAmanda BauerThe e-astronomerSean Carroll at Cosmic VarianceSarah AskewSpace NewsThe New York […]

  17. Dave Carter says:

    Does anyone have any insight into what ESA’s reaction to these developments might be?

    • Michael Merrifield says:

      Isn’t almost half ESA’s investment the cost of the launcher, which could be rather moot?

      • Dave Carter says:

        May be, but they also have substantial investment in instruments, including NIRSpec and a substantial fraction of MIRI.

    • Mark McCaughrean says:

      Sorry; horribly late to this, but have been busy with other things and haven’t dropped by here for a while.

      The combined European (ESA for NIRSpec, launcher, and ops support, ESA member states for the bulk of MIRI) contribution to JWST is roughly €500M in total. Since both MIRI and NIRSpec are close to being delivered to NASA, most of those costs have been sunk, leaving the launcher (roughly €150M) and five years of ops support) to come. Very roughly speaking, we’re more than half done and since the launcher cost is quasi-fixed and risk-freeish (relative to everything else at least), European costs are unlikely to grow much.

      The de facto purchasing power parity exchange rate between an ESA € and a NASA $ is the source of endless angels-on-a-pinhead discussions, with positions usually taken somewhere between €1=$1 and €1=$2. Taking €1=$1.5 as a very crude compromise, ESA’s contribution to JWST is around $750M, thus about 10% of the cost to the US.

      Thus this is a big mission for ESA, and important to us programmatically and to the European astrophysics community scientifically. Obviously, we’re in very close and regular contact with NASA on the whole business of potential cancellation, and senior management from the DG on down have been well-briefed from the project side and from NASA HQ, including Bolden himself.

      However, our position is a tricky one. Our interface is directly to NASA and their position is to continue with the mission: beyond reiterating our desire to do the same (which we have done), there’s not much else we can say to them.

      The real question is who can talk to the OMB, Congress, Obama, and so on, the people in the US who ultimately hold the decision in their hands. It’s not us: we can’t talk to those people directly. Any such interventions on behalf of European interests (be it science, industrial, political, diplomatic) will have to come from the sovereign member states of ESA who can talk directly to the US State Department, for example. ESA can obviously play a role in helping to coordinate such efforts, but we can’t be out front on them.

      The next question is when? Playing these sorts of high-level political cards takes time to organise and can’t be done too often, and given the way the appropriations negotiation process works in the US, the time has not yet come.

      As for the broader issue of ESA and NASA getting a divorce, well, that’s for another post.

      FInally, let’s keep in mind that JWST is much more than a PowerPoint study; it’s very far along in terms of built flight hardware. As well as the instruments mentioned above, one example out of many is the recent completion of the polishing and figuring of all 18 primary mirror segments to better than spec.

  18. Nereid says:

    WHY is the JWST so way over-budget? What is NASA doing about the project/mission’s poor management? What role, if any, has the astronomical community played in either of these?

  19. andyxl says:

    Nereid – your question may be partly answered by the link provided by Keith above. My understanding is that the astro community are certainly not directly responsible – its all about NASA management, politics, and contracting. The exception might be the decision to make it SO ambitious, with which the community went along; experienced heads could have said “a quarter of that will still be exciting and you won’t have problems ABC”. This would be analogous to the way the 100m OWL dream got pruned back to 42m. But to be honest, I don’t personally know enough to make a judgement on this.

    What I did hear is that the standstill cost of JWST is $300M/year. So we’d better decide soon.

  20. Martin E. says:

    Good example, Andy. OWL -> EELT (39.3m) shows how you can put a concept out there, but be flexible about it to make it practicable. A descope of JWST to 4m was apparently considered a few years back, but rejected. It would be interesting to know why.

    • Dave says:

      Interesting example…

      I wonder to what extent the larger involvement of industry in JWST have affected this. Certain parts of the US aerospace industry have certainly seemed to milk launch vehicle contracts for profits in the past, and comments linked to by Keith above suggest this has happened with JWST. Maybe there are benefits to the more ‘statist’ approach of Europe on these things…

    • Nick Cross says:

      Wasn’t JWST initially suggested as an 8m and then descoped to 6.5m. I think there was some resistance to descoping to 6.5m and then when 4m was suggested, it was felt that this was not a big enough jump past HST.

  21. Keith says:

    Andy – I’m not sure the astro community can be completely absolved. In his autobiography Riccardo Giacconi tells how he and Peter Stockman started going to the HST Science Working Group meetings after STScI was set up. Giacconi was appalled at how little say the SWG actually had with the project – they did a fine job looking after the science but had left everything else to the aerospace industry contractors. I may be unfair since I have no direct involvement with JWST (and don’t have the nerve to walk down the corridor and ask the project scientist) but my impression is that something similar has happened here.

    Your final point about the standstill cost is the crux of the matter. It is not enough to save JWST from the chop, we actually need an increase in the budget for the next couple of years else the launch date will disappear into the future and we will bleed money for the rest of the decade.

  22. Nereid says:

    Does anyone know to what extent the ESA and CSA (junior partners, but also coughing up lots of dough) have been lazy (or worse) in allowing the cost over-runs and appalling mis-management (let’s not sugar-coat this) to go on for so long?

    What really riles me is that this is far, far from the first time a really important astronomy mission has gone south (or is about to) for want of leadership and technical skills that are widely known and practiced elsewhere (programme management of this type is not rocket science).

    Why does it keep happening? And why is the professional astronomical community apparently so blind to the obvious consequences of their non-involvement?

  23. Dave says:

    I think the correct comparison to this is not past astronomy missions with cost over runs but past manned or launch vehicle projects. In that context this kind of nonsense is almost standard practice by some of the large US aerospace companies. Only this time the pockets of the NASA area they’re playing games with aren’t as deep as they’re used to.

  24. […] JWST discussion is getting vairy interesting. But meanwhile life continues. There are students to meet and papers […]

  25. Mrs Trellis says:

    Dear Mr Pandy,

    I recently went to a very interesting lecture by Prof. Disney at which he explained how he designed and built all the instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope single-handedly. Although he’s formally retired, I gather he is still active in astronomy. Has anyone thought of calling him in to sort out the mess with JWST?

    Yours sincerely,

    Mrs Trellis

    • andyxl says:

      As we say in this corner of the Celtic Fringe, whats the difference between Bing Crosby and Mike Disney ? Bing sings but Mike disnae.

    • Nick Cross says:

      He runs a bit of a Mickey Mouse operation. You must be having some kind of Fantasia if you think he can help.

  26. Mrs Trellis says:

    With all due respect, I think that’s a rather Goofy remark.

  27. Mitch D says:

    I work on the JWST project as an engineer whats the over under I’m out of a job?

  28. andyxl says:

    Mitch – its kinda hard to tell. Basically, JWST is being used as a political football, and thats a difficult process to guess. My bet would be that it is going to survive, but we need to keep it in the public eye.

  29. Doug says:

    Some of the comments on this are a bit silly, and show a basic misunderstanding of space science policy. It isn’t that “Oooh, JWST will do great astronomy!” or “Oooh, we really need the IR depth that JWST will provide.” “Oooh, we have to educate Congress about the JWST science.” No one is arguing about the scientific merits of JWST. No one.

    What’s being argued about is the value of the program, and the jaw-dropping mismanagement that has been applied to it. It’s about what JWST will not only cost in dollars, but what it will likely cost in dollars for other science missions. It’s about opportunity cost as well as dollar cost. It’s also about basing modern U.S. space astronomy on a mission that won’t provide data for quite possibly at least a decade, and lock up vital scientific fiscal resources for at least that length of time. It’s about a mission that will carry out its mission with somewhat obsolete instrumentation, for a community that will have significantly evaporated. Sorry, but HST and Spitzer users will find other interesting stuff to do in the next decade that may or may not bear on JWST.

    The argument that “$10B is a very small fraction of the national budget!!” is the worst. Get used to it. JWST serves a very small fraction of the needs of this nation. Leadership in space astronomy is likewise a very arguable need for a nation. Employment of astronomers is as well.

    I myself am a huge supporter of JWST, but I find it dismaying how this mission, in desperate fiscal trouble, is being marketed. The JWST team is proudly passing out maps showing how many states contribute to JWST. “Hey, JWST has a job for YOU!” That kind of stuff normally has Congressional impact. But what that map means right now, is “Hey, JWST mismanagement will benefit YOU! Don’t worry. The money we funnel in to it to prop it up will end up in your pocket too.” The “inspiration” and STEM education argument is similarly dismaying. Do you know how much STEM education you can do with that amount of money? I mean real STEM education.

    What the nation needs to understand right now, very clearly, is how JWST serves national needs. Because it’s damned expensive, and we just don’t have the money. The astronomy community hasn’t figured out how to make that case competently.

    The very sad thing about JWST is that as a result of a long history of mismanagement, NASA has lost credibility for doing flagship science missions. That’s the real cost of all this and with respect to that, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter much if we continue with JWST or not. The repercussions of this will go far, far beyond decisions about the fate of JWST. What’s really needed is some soul searching from the astronomy community about this lost credibility, and how we avoid chugging Kool-aid when new ambitious missions are proposed.

    • davecl says:

      It’s interesting that the ‘marketing’ techniques you mention here are exactly those that large aerospace companies have used to prop up expensive launch vehicle projects, like shuttle, and rather demonstrates that JWST has become another cash cow for them, with the science taking a distant position in the far future.

      This would appear to be a problem with the way large projects work in NASA and the US. It’s a tragedy that it’s happening to a science mission this time, and to an international one at that, so that there are implications outside the US.

      All of this needs to be fixed before the US can again be regarded as a reliable partner by ESA and other international partners.

      • Doug says:

        That seems sensible. But if the word “marketing” seems misplaced for a large science project, you’re living on another planet. “Marketing”, to the public, to Congress, and even to the rest of the science community, is fantastically important for any major science project that seeks federal investment. For many decades, “marketing” has been an important part of NASA science mission advocacy. “Marketing” to the science community is more than just saying “hey, this is GREAT science”, but that the mission offers great value in doing it. There is lots more “great science” than there are dollars to do them.

        I will agree that this JWST fiasco has ramifications for future international science collaboration though, you know, ESA’s contribution to JWST was really not anywhere near as large as ours. The real failure that JWST has brought upon the space science community is a loss of credibility with Congress for large space science project management by NASA. I should add that the the costings for other large space astronomy project are being done in the same way as were done for JWST several years ago. Congress is supposed to be reassured by those?

      • Doug says:

        P.S. Let me add to my other response that if, as many would believe, we have to rely on the general public to rise up and save JWST, then what we know as marketing is profoundly important. Call ’em what you want, but marketing authorities know exactly how to make the general public want something. Hate to say it, but with the disrespect that the general public tends to show to science these days (evolution? climate change?) NASA may need to plunk down some dollars in real marketing. Well, Congress doesn’t let them do that explicitly, so NASA calls it “EPO”. But you don’t have a lot of raw marketing smarts in those EPO efforts.

    • andyxl says:

      Doug – I sort agree with most of that, but it needs a bit of clarifying.

      * Yes, insisting how super-duper JWST is may be a bit naive, and yes, maybe right now nobody is doubting that, but in my experience if you don’t say out loud “this is really a world beater, we are chopping something amazing” then that absence of support is noted, and you really are dead.

      * The “JWST is amazing” message is aimed at the general public, who may not know. Again, in my experience, what politicians listen to more than anything else is public opinion. If Congressmen get letters from Scout Troops saying “please don’t chop the amazing telescope” they take it more seriously, and it really doesn’t matter whether they already thought it was amazing or the opposite. It’s what the scouts think that matters.

      * Yes, there has been an opportunity cost in going with JWST; and this has been exacerbated by the mis-management; but if I understand right, chopping it now does not solve that problem; the money is lost permanently from astronomy.

      * So the real issue for the community is : if we win this battle and get it back, can we get on top of this thing and stop it ballooning further ???

      * Of course all this is irrelevant. The JWST thing is clearly being used as a political football in the deficit-cap wars. Republicans are saying “well… we’ll just cut something everybody loves because we have no choice. So how about THAT Mr Socialist Obama”.

      I agree with Dave in that most astronomy projects have in fact been very well managed. So it distressing to have gotten caught up in this kind of thing. And that is especially true for the instrument teams, which have been doing a very good job.

      • Doug says:

        Let’s be clear. There will be NO outpouring of support from the “general public” for JWST. You’re deluding yourself if you think that’s the case. We’d be lucky to be seeing data from JWST in a decade. The public is going to pour out support for something they won’t see for a decade??? Nope. That there was an outpouring of public support for Hubble is explained simply. It was a bird in hand. It was an entity that was being killed, rather than a plan that was being killed. Entities count a lot more than plans.

        Don’t be silly about JWST being a political football. $2B over a decade doesn’t make a political football. The deficit cap wars that are being argued about are in the *trillions* of dollars. A Republican would be simply dumb to point to a JWST cancellation and say “Take that, Mr. President”. That comment is just more evidence of federal science policy naivité. The Republicans don’t want to kill science any more than the Democrats do. Oh, and JWST is not something “everybody loves”. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that if I go down to the supermarket and ask random people about how much they love JWST, I’ll get nothing but blank looks. Don’t be patronizing.

        Letters from Boy Scout troops influencing Rep. Wolf on survival of JWST? Oh, puhleeze. Letters from Boy Scouts whose dads are employed by GSFC or NGST, perhaps! Congress would say to the Boy Scouts, you know, kids, there is an important lesson here. Let me teach you about making repeated promises and keeping them. Let me teach you about what happens when you screw up and basically mislead people repeatedly. Yep, there’s a lesson for Boy Scouts here.

        Yes, you’re right. The budget line for JWST is probably permanently lost to astronomy. Chopping it off now doesn’t solve that problem, but keeping it just postpones the real day of reckoning. Mind you, I’m not arguing that JWST be killed. I’m just saying that the arguments against doing that are shaping up to be pretty lame.

    • andyxl says:

      Doug. Lots of true stuff there, and I will back off a bit, as I don’t have any inside knowledge, and you are being a tad, umm, passionate about this. Think I’ll make a cup of tea.

      • Doug says:

        I appreciate your understanding. Yes, I’m being a little passionate about this. But it is quite exasperating when the astronomical community, and the JWST science team in particular, adopts an advocacy posture that seems to have been given little serious thought. When I hear arguments like the stale ones we seem to be hearing about why JWST should be preserved, it really makes one think that the advocates have never talked with a politician or don’t have any sense of national needs. It has been suggested that the education of an astronomer should include some basic grounding in federal science policy. The JWST fiasco makes that all too sensible.

        I suppose one silver lining on this JWST cloud is that discussions on this subject are actually taking place.

      • andyxl says:

        I really hope there is a three track approach here. If the ONLY defense of JWST is the “but we’ll see the edge of the Universe !!” stuff, then I agree with you that would not be good enough. But I assume that people are ALSO doing the traditional US style backroom horse trading at the same time. The public support doesn’t have to be universal and widespread. There just have to enough visible fuss in the newspapers etc that it can be used in those horse trading discussions. But meanwhile I also hope we have a third track – taking the opportunity to clear house and set up a healthier re-start project.

        But these are all generalisms. I really don’t know enough to judge whether the beast can be tamed.

  30. Dave says:

    Doug – I do understand the need for marketing for projects this large in the US system, and only used scare quotes because it’s a bit different from what is usually used for the term. Ensuring each senator gets jobs in their district from the project isn’t quite the same as a TV ad campaign, after all, and that was one of the marketing ploys used to keep shuttle alive.p, and which bloated it’s budget at the same time. If US space astronomy has to play those games then the game is over.

    I would submit that the ESA system is more effective in this regard than the NASA system, and while we have less money we do seem to be deploying it more effectively for producing science. I suspect the JWST debacle will seal the near-divorce between ESA and NASA already underway and that the proposed 20% maximum partnership contribution will become the rule.

    • Doug says:

      I think I agree with this. To the extent that U.S. space astronomy is reduced to a jobs program, then we’re all done. But “marketing” should be looked at more broadly — it should explicitly include an effort to convince the taxpayers that space astronomy is good for more than satisfying curiosity, or at least that satisfying curiosity is a national need. I don’t see that in current NASA astronomy EPO efforts.

      Very true about the near-divorce between ESA and NASA on space astronomy. The machinations with WFIRST, LISA, and maybe IXO (though IXO is more scientifically derivative than the other two) and seeking better international options for them, will just end up reflecting those issues.

  31. Michael Merrifield says:

    Before we in the UK congratulate ourselves too much on being better at this kind of thing, it is worth noting that our only recent go-it-alone venture into space science, Beagle 2, went down a very similar route in terms of cost over-runs, albeit on a much smaller scale. Its PI, Professor Pillinger, even went on record with a Parliamentary Select Committee and told them that he had deliberately not asked for all the money he was going to need up front, because he knew he wouldn’t have got it. And sadly we all know how well that all worked out in the end.

    It would also pay to be mindful of why this culture seems to exist in at least some areas of space astronomy. The simplest interpretation would be that the costs involved are often sufficiently large that contractors have been able to play the “too big to fail” card pretty much at will, and such leveraging has become ingrained in the system. Clearly in the era of billion-euro ground-based projects like E-ELT and SKA, there is at least a risk that other areas of astronomy will become similarly infected. To-date, I must say that I have been impressed by the care that ESO have been taking in establishing fixed costs for as much of E-ELT as possible through FEED contracts, etc, but for all I know I could have been similarly convinced if I had been listening to what NASA had to say about JWST’s costs a decade ago.

  32. Albert Zijlstra says:

    The full text of the house budget proposals regarding the JWST is available on http://www.engr-sci.org/fyi/2011/090.html .

    Precisely how financial pressure is relieved by cutting the budget is a bit unclear. An opening gambit: NASA is being invited to cut another mission if they want JWST, or to propose a replacement mission. Public pressure could still change this.

    “(…) Although JWST is a particularly serious example, significant cost overruns are commonplace at NASA, and the Committee believes that the underlying causes will never be fully addressed if the Congress does not establish clear consequences for failing to meet budget and schedule expectations. The Committee recommendation provides no funding for JWST in fiscal year 2012. The Committee believes that this step will ultimately benefit NASA by setting a cost discipline example for other projects and by relieving the enormous pressure that JWST was placing on NASA’s ability to pursue other science missions.”

  33. Doug says:

    “Precisely how financial pressure is relieved by cutting the budget is a bit unclear.”

    Huh? Actually, it’s precisely clear how financial pressure is relieved by cutting budgets. The pressure that is being relieved is not pressure on NASA, but pressure on the very limited CJS discretionary account.

    NASA is not being invited to cut another mission if they want JWST. There are no such words coming out of Congress. That’s probably what will have to happen, but it’s not being “invited”. Here’s why that’s important. If NASA decides to prop up JWST for a year with funds that would have been allocated elsewhere, it will have to assume that Congress is willing to fund it in successive years. At least the Appropriators will be saying “don’t count on it”. It would be great if Congress actually said that they would continue support for JWST, even if just not this year.

    It is also very unlikely that the money cut from JWST will be handed back to the Astronomy Division. So there is no reason to believe that NASA is being invited to propose a replacement mission.

    Finally, as I said above, public pressure is very unlikely to change this. The public (sadly) largely doesn’t care, and isn’t really aware of JWST, which is a promise that is ten years from being fulfilled, at best. This is NOT Hubble. The astronomy community has done a dismal job of marketing JWST to the public, largely because it was always seen as being a slam dunk. The marketing that was done was curiosity based, and not one that was national-needs based.

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