Groups Try to Save James Webb Space Telescope from Cancellation

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The campaign to save NASA’s budget has begun after a House committee approved a spending plan that would slash $1.9 billion from President Barack Obama’s budget request and cancel the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The Planetary Society is rallying its members to save the over budget and behind schedule space observatory, which is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The society has online petitions that supporters can sign. One is for U.S. citizens to send to their Congressmen. The other is an international petition that will be sent to President Obama. Both petitions are broadly written; the domestic appeal reads:

As your constituent and a member of the Planetary Society, I implore you to support NASA in its primary mission of space exploration. Please take a stand against letting vested interests legislate how to build rockets, while precious opportunities to advance science, technology and space exploration pass us by. By pioneering space exploration, NASA creates scientific and economic value for the future of our world.

Meanwhile, other groups have issued statements saying that the JWST is far too valuable and far along in its development to cancel.

American Astronomical Society Statement

The proposal released on July 6 by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope would waste more taxpayer dollars than it saves while simultaneously undercutting the critical effort to utilize American engineering and ingenuity to expand human knowledge. Such a proposal threatens American leadership in the fields of astrophysics and advanced space technology while likely eliminating hundreds, if not thousands, of high-tech jobs. Additionally, this proposal comes before the completion of a revised construction plan and budget for a launch of JWST by 2018. The United States position as the leader in astronomy, space science, and spaceflight is directly threatened by this proposal.

The JWST is the highest-ranked mission in the National Academy of Science’s Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey released in 2000 and remains a high priority for the Nation’s astronomers in this decade as well, as the revolutionary successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This survey, conducted once every 10 years by hundreds of the Nation’s leading scientists, prioritizes — based on scientific merit and impact — projects proposed by the scientific community that require significant government support for completion. These reports represent a community consensus on the efforts necessary to advance our knowledge of the universe. The potential of JWST to transform astronomy underlies many of the activities recommended in the 2010 decadal report released last August. JWST is designed to observe well beyond Hubble’s capabilities. It is expected to serve thousands of astronomers in the coming decades to revolutionize our understanding of our place in the Universe, just as Hubble has done since its completion and launch just over two decades ago.

The JWST’s completion, launch, and operation will unveil new knowledge about the earliest formation of stars and planets and on a wide range of additional advanced scientific questions, including many not yet formulated. As was true with the Hubble Space Telescope, recognized as a tremendous success by the public, scientists, and policy-makers, building the most advanced telescopes comes with the risk of unexpected costs and delays. However, the whole Nation can rightly take pride in the engineering and scientific accomplishment that the completion and launch of such instruments represents. With the help of important international partners, we are the only nation that could lead such an effort; we should not shirk from completing the project when the most difficult engineering challenges have already been overcome. As stated in the Casani report, an independent review of project readiness completed late last year, “The JWST Project has made excellent progress in developing the difficult technologies required for its successful operation, and no technical constraints to successful completion have been identified.” The mirrors stand ready and waiting for integration into the spacecraft. The telescope has passed both preliminary design review and critical design review. It is time to complete construction and look ahead to JWST’s launch and science operations.

The American Astronomical Society calls upon all members of Congress to support JWST to its completion and to provide strong oversight on the path to this goal. Too many taxpayer dollars have already been spent to cancel the mission now; its benefits far outweigh the remaining costs. We must see the mission through. We are a great nation and we do great things. JWST represents our highest aspirations and will be one of our most significant accomplishments.

Association of University for Research in Astronomy

Today, AURA strongly objected to the proposal by the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). JWST remains the world’s foremost effort to push the boundaries of astronomy and astrophysics.

Over the past year, NASA managers and the science community have undertaken a concerted effort to establish a budget and technology plan that allows the launch of JWST by 2018. The proposal by the Congress to terminate the program comes at a time when these efforts are coming to fruition. In addition, in June, NASA contractors completed the polishing and fabrication of all of the JWST mirrors completing one of the most challenging technical hurdles.

In commenting on the proposed cancellation, Dr. William S. Smith, President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said “Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA’s science program. JWST is NASA’s premier science facility, unsurpassed by any other telescope now or in the future.”

Dr. Dan Clemens of Boston University, Chair of the AURA Board, said “The science community has planned and eagerly anticipated JWST since it was identified as the highest priority astronomy program over a decade ago. The importance of its science has only increased since then. I hope that this year’s final appropriations bill will provide the needed support to complete this program.”