The US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee have put forward a 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which included a $1.6billion shortfall in NASA funding and the cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope.
This would of course be a terrible blow - a disaster - for the astronomy community, and science in general. A new larger window on the universe in which we live has been long sort after since the announcement that Hubble will no longer be serviced.
Ironically, the announcement comes just a day after Hubble reached the amazing milestone of it's 1 millionth observation, a reminder of just how such an endeavour can inspire, add wonder, awe and excitement to people's lives, generating huge interest in space science and our collective human understanding.
Unusually the bill included a hint of the committees justification; "...which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.". Budgets that are set low to begin with often overrun and end up costing more than was originally necessary - had the appropriate budget been in place in the first place, I would suspect that these issues would not be arising now. It seems to be a common thread with NASA and its half hearted funding by the largely scientifically benign US governance. Large grandiose plans are put in place by members wishing to appear forward thinking an innovative, and then funding slashed because they apparently don't really believe in the goals or see and understand the intrinsic value of such plans.
The primary scientific goals of the JWST need no elaboration. Such an endeavour would surely be an eye opening magnificent journey of discovery and understanding, the likes and scale of which Hubble has only given us a taste...
"The James Webb Space Telescope will be a giant leap forward in our quest to understand the Universe and our origins. The Webb will examine every phase of cosmic history: from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets to the evolution of our own solar system. The science goals for the Webb can be grouped into four themes:
1) The End of the Dark Ages: First Light and Reionization seeks to identify the first bright objects that formed in the early Universe, and follow the ionization history.
2) Assembly of Galaxies will determine how galaxies and dark matter, including gas, stars, metals, physical structures (like spiral arms) and active nuclei evolved to the present day.
3) The Birth of Stars and Protoplanetary Systems focuses on the birth and early development of stars and the formation of planets.
4) Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life studies the physical and chemical properties of solar systems (including our own) and where the building blocks of life may be present.
Lets hope that this bill does not make it too far while it contains this hammer blow to human progress...
Contact your representatives!
"The House Appropriations Committee proposed Wednesday to kill the James Webb Space Telescope, the crown jewel of NASA's astronomy plans for the next two decades." From the New York Times