Two steps forward for man; one giant leap back for congress.
First the space shuttle, now this – America’s* getting itself a bad track record of failing to maintain it’s (admittedly rather awesome and groundbreaking) steps into space.
The Hubble Space Telescope has had its final MOT, and that’s fine: nothing lasts forever, not even GIANT FREAKING SPACESHIPS ORBITING THE EARTH UNMANNED. But what is most definitely under fire is the hubble’s successor, the James Webb Telescope. Laurence M Krauss puts it a lot better than I will, but here it is in it’s condensed form.
“This successor to the phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope will peer back to the period of ‘first light’, when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe giving new insights into exotica from the first giant black holes, to the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that dominate the dynamics of the universe. After billions have been spent, the House Appropriations Committee has recommended terminating the project because it is over budget and has had management issues. [However] cost over-runs and management issues… gave a democratic congress an excuse to kill the program during hard economic times.”
Even excluding the obvious reasons why this is a bad idea, as a physicist (or at least an ex-physicist), I can tell you that for all the high profile badass going on at CERN, our main source of observable particle interactions is space itself: we literally don’t have the energy and resources to do most of the research we need, but nebulae and quasars do. And our eye on these interactions comes, in great part, from space telescopes like Hubble and James Webb.
Also, if we ever want to go up there, we need to be able to put up huge space stations and look at what we’re doing through them. So it’s important that we keep our foot in the interstellar door.
James Webb hasn’t fully been canceled yet – merely put “under review”. There’s still hope!
* As we seem to live on their coat-tails for this kind of thing, then by extension our own space program too.