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Thread: NASA Budget Crisis Threatens Space Telescopes

  1. #1 NASA Budget Crisis Threatens Space Telescopes 
    Forum Sophomore cleft's Avatar
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    May 2005
    NASA Budget Crisis Threatens Space Telescopes
    By Richard Tresch Fienberg

    The infrared-optimized James Webb Space Telescope is designed to study the highly redshifted light from the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. Ballooning costs threaten to shrink its primary mirror from 6.5 meters to 4 and eliminate at least one of its scientific instruments, much to astronomers' dismay. The tennis-court-size rectangular structure at bottom is a sunshade. Courtesy Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

    May 20, 2005 | Astronomers are riding an emotional roller coaster. Last month they were elated when NASA's new administrator, Michael D. Griffin, restarted work on a possible shuttle mission to extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope. This month they're in despair over news that future space-astronomy missions may be downsized, delayed, or cancelled because of a financial crisis within the agency.

    In a recent letter to Congress, Griffin noted that NASA's budget for the current year falls about $2 billion short of what's needed to keep all current programs on track. Reasons for the imbalance include cost overruns in the shuttle return-to-flight effort and in several space-science missions, congressionally mandated expenditures ("earmarks," otherwise known as "pork"), and the resumption of preparations for servicing Hubble. Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on May 12th, Griffin admitted that "identifying offsets needed to fund these items has created some difficult choices."

    Among the projects whose timelines will be stretched out are the Space Interferometry Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder, advanced space telescopes designed to explore planets around other stars beginning in 2011 (SIM) and sometime between 2012 and 2015 (TPF). Griffin says he doesn't yet know the extent of these delays. NASA's Mars Science Lab, a long-duration rover now slated for launch in 2009, may slip to 2011.

    By far the worst problem for astronomers concerns the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a 6.5-meter (256-inch) infrared observatory sometimes called Hubble's successor. It's a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Various hurdles seem destined to delay its launch by at least a year, to no earlier than 2012, and threaten to increase the mission's cost by as much as $1 billion, to more than $3 billion. In response, NASA has asked the project to consider whether a 4-meter telescope with fewer scientific instruments could be flown instead. According to one astronomer on the Webb team, who asked to remain anonymous, "such an observatory would not be worth continuing with" because it wouldn't be able to compete scientifically with the next generation of giant ground-based telescopes except in a narrow range of infrared wavelengths. "None of us believe it'd save the required amount of money anyway."

    At this point it's anybody's guess what will happen to Webb. If NASA can't scrounge enough extra money to continue the project in its current form, perhaps by taking it from another mission, outright cancellation is a very real possibility. "I don't know the technical and budget path we'll find," says senior project scientist John Mather (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center), "but the JWST project management and science team are extremely determined to find a solution in working with our international partners and NASA Headquarters."

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    I think the public has had an oppurtunity to be exposed to the wonderful photos that the Hubble has sent back and that have been released to the public. It is easily seen that I am not alone in this opinion. Every effort to underfinance or lower the abilities of the Hubble have been met with public dismay that they would consider such moves. I think that as much as anything the results of the Hubble have kept the public interested in the idea that we could at sometime in the far future explore these wonders closer. Without these reminders of the vast frontier waiting to be explored that interest would wane in the other efforts to acheive any sort of orbital work and research. Unless the public is kept aware of what is out there beyond our reach, they will resume their lives without thought of what might be in our stellar neighborhood and beyond. The Hubble has been so successful in this public relations that ever hungry politicans have found it best not to fool with that funding too much.

    Sadly, Hubble has exceeded its life expectancy and through space repairs and services has continued to do what it does best. Repairs can only extend the life so long and at that point the giant eye in orbit will no longer look. That scientists are being asked if such a large collector is necessary shows that those which wish to limit the purse truely do not understand the nature of what is necessary to accomplish that which the project seeks to do and instead wish to drain or limit the funding more than find out what it is this project seeks to do.

    What is your opinion on these works that are being pinched in the financal squeeze? Are you like one of our past members and think it is a boondoggle or is it worth the money to send out there millions and billions of dollars? After all it all comes from your paycheck...

    "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."
    - H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
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  3. #2  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    May 2005
    Key West, Florida, Earth
    I'd like them to try and fix the Hubble however the newer telescopes being planed will far exceed Hubbles views and bring us even more astonishing images from the universe. If they have the resources to fix Hubble then let them but if resources are very limited let us progress towards newr and better things to come.

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