Part of the show Why do some animals dump indiscriminately?
Jeremy Baker asked:
What would NASA do with the equipment that's already been made if congress cuts the programme? Because obviously, they're looking to make savings and there is a danger that the James Webb might not progress on the grounds there's no money available.
It is certainly one of the worries.
The greatest tragedy here is that the mirrors, which are the most complicated part of telescope, are in fact completed. So we now have, at the space flight centre here, all 18 mirrors, each one as precise as the Hubble Space Telescope, in boxes waiting to actually be assembled into a telescope.
The UK, for example, is producing something called the mid-infrared imager and it actually will be arriving here soon. So we will have these instruments also ready to go.
It's precisely because we have got so far with this that there's lots of rethinking going on about whether it was the right decision taken by the House – in the US system, there's the House and the Senate that decide on funding. The House first voted to actually not fund the James Webb Telescope. The Senate has yet to speak on the issue and I think people are beginning to scratch their heads and think, “Hold on a minute. We’ve got all this hardware. Is this the right moment to actually stop the funding?”
I think it is very troubling to hear about potentially defunding the JWST.
About $3.5b has been spent already and another $4b or so needs to be spent. If this is canned it could put long range optical astronomy back a generation. This should not have to be funded just by the USA. Although there are other funds coming in from abroad, the vast bulk is US funding. If sufficient was available from Europe or China (for example), and any other beneficial outcomes were also shared with the contributors, this may save the programme for the benefit of the rest of the world. Maybe it is a good move by congress (though I don't think intentional) to pursuade other countries to cough up more cash. There would have to be a sharing of the research value resulting from the development too, but it has to be a better option than stopping the programme.
I didn't know that JWST was planned to be in such a high orbit though I probably should have. I just looked at a NASA presentation on how they planned to deploy and service it. Wow!