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26 July 2011

Save the James Webb Space Telescope!

So, this week we saw the end of the Space Shuttle era.  Something that had been coming down the pike for a while.  One of the things that the Shuttle Program will probably be most remembered for is the spectacular goof and then rescue of the Hubble Space Telescope.  Hubble is probably one of the most enduring, and well known, legacies of the Shuttle Program, as well as for the entire human race.  Now that the Shuttle is no more, eventually Hubble will break, and it too will be no more.  However, us (marginally) clever apes have a plan.  It's called the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  It's an amazing bit of engineering and technology, and will actually expand our sights into the univers beyond what Hubble gave us!  Sadly, this program is in danger from the congress critters in DC.  Lawrence M. Krauss has written a great peice about saving this mission.  Please join the cause.  It makes sense to scrap some things, but this just isn't one of them... (Emphasis mine.)
Almost 20 years ago Congress cancelled what was then the most ambitious scientific project ever launched, the Superconducting Super Collider. Well on the way to completion and after several billion dollars had been spent, cost over-runs and management issues meant that the project, the world’s largest particle accelerator which would have resolved questions ranging from the origin of all mass to the nature of fundamental forces, gave a democratic congress an excuse to kill the program during hard economic times.

A similar situation is arising now and is threatening to ground the nearly completed James Webb Space Telescope. Coming in at $1.6 Billion over its recently updated cost estimate of approximately $5 Billion, this successor to the phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope will peer back to the period of ‘first light’, when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe giving new insights into exotica from the first giant black holes, to the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that dominate the dynamics of the universe. After billions have been spent, the House Appropriations Committee has recommended terminating the project because it is over budget and has had management issues.

The cancellation of the JWST would likely herald the beginning of the end of US leadership in Space Science, just as the cancellation of the SSC moved the center of gravity in particle physics to Europe. The JWST was designed to take off where the Hubble Space telescope—which has revolutionized astronomy—has ended, by taking us to the very beginnings of visible structure in the Universe. It was meant to be the centerpiece of astronomy for the next two decades, and without it, the tantalizing hints that Hubble has been able to glean about our beginnings will remain just that for perhaps a generation.


trog69 said...

Good morning, LL. Generic internet stalker here, via PZ/RockBeyondBelief sites. While I've never played the table-top D&D, I did become addicted to the computer RPGs, like NeverwinterNights, etc.( Heresy, say the dice-rollers!)

The first thing that caused me to actually look forward to the computer, before my gaming insanity set in, was APOD-Astronomic Picture Of the Day. I was flat-out astounded, and it was/is the closest I've ever come to seeing God, though it also strongly reinforced my views that a god that could build this majesty couldn't possibly have an interest in relative microbes inhabiting, and ultimately destroying their tiny, rocky home. ( Pale blue dot was another example.)

But, I'm not surprised that the anti-science, anti-"elite" yahoos now running a large percentage of our government cannot seem to see the benefits of a space telescope. ("We already got enough tellyscopes right here in good ol' USA, we can't afford for more eggheads to go prodding around God's living room!")

Anyway, good luck in your endeavors, and I'm getting ready to head back into the DC Wasteland ( Fallout3!) to escape the ignorant nonsense from our gov't. that so depresses me. Yes, a completely destroyed Wash. DC is how I escape the dismal reality of our ever-more polarized country. And I just spent a bit more of the grandkid's college fund on a graphics card that holds more memory than the entire RAM in my last laptop. Yay me!

Larian LeQuella said...

Thanks for your comment Trog69. For some reason, it actually made me smile. APOD is of course a great site, and I visit it often. And the graphics card comments really made me smile! Yay you!