So I have spent the last two weeks traveling overseas for science and have returned to a world turned topsy-turvy. As we all watch the wild swings in the market today, many researchers are bracing for what may be a major retrenchment in U.S. scientific efforts.
The most notable project on the chopping block is the Hubble Space Telescope's successor — the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The House of Representatives wants to kill the project, which would effectively end U.S. leadership in space science. While these kinds of budget politics are often played out through big science projects, the current chaos makes the end of JWST far too possible.
That outcome would be a nightmare for the U.S. as a leader in science.
As a recent APS statement puts it, the reasons to save the JWST are manifold:
- Successor to the extraordinarily successful Hubble Space Telescope with similar potential to transform astronomy, JWST is the centerpiece of the future American space astrophysics program. It was the highest-ranked mission in the 2000 National Academy of Sciences' Astronomy Decadal Survey and is a cornerstone of the 2010 Survey.
- JWST is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and would revolutionize our understanding of the birth of the Universe, reveal much about the first stars and galaxies, and play a crucial role in the quest to find life on distant planets.
- Seventy-five percent of the JWST hardware is being fabricated or has been delivered, and $3.5 billion (about half of the total cost) has been spent. The Casani report, commissioned by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), found no technical problems, and NASA and its contractors have corrected management deficiencies that the report identified.
- JWST would continue Hubble's legacy as one of the greatest inspirations for young people and as a symbol of American leadership in science and space. Cancellation of JWST would eliminate thousands of high-tech jobs, especially in the aerospace industry.
- The Canadian and the European Space Agencies are contributing around a billion dollars to JWST; cancellation would again call into question our nation's record as a reliable international partner
Lets hope we are not watching the beginning of our race to the bottom.