More problems for James Webb Space Telescope?


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The impending release of an independent NASA review of the state of the James Webb Space Telescope project suggests that the project is faced with additional issues.

NASA is in the process of evaluating the report from the Independent Review Board chaired by Tom Young to assess the status of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Established in March, the Board was due to submit its report on May 31. NASA said today that the Board has completed its work and briefed NASA. The report will be released later this month after NASA determines the impact on cost and schedule.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, created the Webb Independent Review Board (WIRB) on March 27, the same day he announced another delay in the telescope’s launch. WIRB held its first meeting the next week.

For many years, JWST appeared to be on track for launch in October 2018 after a 2011 restructuring that followed a series of earlier cost overruns and schedule delays. Congress capped the development cost (not operations) at $8 billion in law. Pursuant to the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, if a program exceeds 30 percent of its baseline estimated cost, NASA must notify Congress and no money may be spent on it after 18 months from the time of that notification unless Congress reauthorizes it.

The project will not die, Congress will simply extend it with lots more money. That is how big NASA projects really function, to take as long as possible so that they can continue their real goal of providing pork barrel jobs in congressional districts.

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4 comments

  • Localfluff

    I doubt that the highly specialized physicists and engineers involved in JWST is a big voting group, nor that they would go unemployed without government projects.

  • Tom Billings

    Local, in the 2,000 Presidential campaign, the 2,004 Presidential campaign, and the 2,008 Presidential campaign, the largest donation totals for any corporate body’s employees in the *primary* campaigns were from the University of California, with Harvard University coming in a close second. Academic STEM professors and grad students are the only claim academia currently has to usefulness in society, and they know it! Every time it becomes obvious that another set of such people are no longer guaranteed employment at fat government salaries, they make sure incumbent Congress members know their displeasure, by contributing to primary challengers. Incumbents seriously challenged in primary campaigns lose the general election twice as often as those who go unopposed.

    Thus, few in Congress want to set loose another storm of disgruntled primary campaign donors. This is especially true in Maryland’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, where most of that Webb Telescope money is headed. Maryland Congress members will use a *lot* of their own political capital to make sure that doesn’t happen. Other members? Well, you don’t get political favors from inside Congress piled up by voting to cut programs another member needs to keep his seat. So, it comes down to a contest between the clout of national politics wanting a cut of Webb, while lots of internal congressional politics wants more money for Webb, and Maryland’s congressional delegation are *desperate* to keep Webb. Tip O’Niel was at least 1/3rd right when he said “All politics is local politics”.

  • m d mill

    Consider the fitting irony/tragedy/waste if the rocket that eventually launches it blows up or malfunctions…i’m juss sayin.

  • Localfluff

    Breaking the mirror means seven years of bad luck, tradition says. And 7 years is nothing for projects like this!

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