House panel slates Hubble successor for elimination in NASA budget

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope may be on the budget chopping block this week, and astronomers are more than a little unhappy.

Designed to be the successor to the enormously successful but aging Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb telescope was tentatively scheduled to launch in 2018. Work on it so far has cost $3 billion, but it's eventually expected to cost $6.8 billion, making it an attractive target for budget trimmers.

The planned appropriation for NASA by the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee eliminates funding for the Webb telescope. The full committee on Wednesday approved the subcommittee's recommendation.

The telescope "is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management," the subcommittee wrote in its overview of the legislation for funding NASA and a host of other agencies.

Astronomers disagree. Such a cut "would waste more taxpayer dollars than it saves while simultaneously undercutting the critical effort to utilize American engineering and ingenuity to expand human knowledge," the American Astronomical Society complained. "The United States's position as the leader in astronomy, space science, and spaceflight is directly threatened by this proposal."

The Webb telescope sees in the infrared spectrum, and it is expected to be able to image objects that were created just after the Big Bang gave birth to the universe. Hubble has been able to see back in time to just 200 million years after the Big Bang. Webb is designed to see even farther back in space and time than that.

The telescope isn't the only pawn in play as the Obama administration proposals get hacked by the Republican-led committee.

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