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NASA Space Politics

James Webb Space Telescope Closer To the Axe 226

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-see-nothing dept.
astroengine writes "This could be considered 'strike two' for the deeply troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Last week, the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee made the recommendation that the advanced infrared space telescope be cancelled. On Wednesday, the full House Science, Space and Technology Committee has approved the subcommittee's plan. The project may not be dead yet — the 2012 budget still has to be voted on my the House and Senate — but it sure is looking grim for 'Hubble's replacement.'"
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James Webb Space Telescope Closer To the Axe

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 14, 2011 @09:26AM (#36762534) Journal
    Can someone please explain to me why despite the fairly linear rising budget of NASA [wikipedia.org] we are shutting everything down right now? Is mismanagement really that bad at NASA? Is it saddled with debt from past programs?

    I don't get it. It's like I'm watching my generation drop the ball despite all the obvious reasons in my mind to establish a presence off this rock. "Oh, my parents' generation put people on the moon. Not only did my generation stop putting people and telescopes in space, we also made ground observatories illegal and have re-instituted burning people who claim the Earth is not the center of the universe. Why? Because it was more affordable in the very immediate future."
    • by zoobaby (583075) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @09:32AM (#36762598)

      Read the report: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=35294 [spaceref.com]

      In short, the answer is yes, management is that bad at NASA. I am coming to believe that we need to look at NASA's mission and alter it for the post Cold-War era.

      • by sycodon (149926)

        There are no more "Steely-Eyed Rocket Men" left at NASA. Just bureaucrats with technical degrees.

        • by spidercoz (947220) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @10:27AM (#36763298) Journal
          Technical degrees? More like MBAs, the downfall of American society. Which brings up a point: why are "Masters of Business Administration" so fucking terrible at administrating businesses? It's almost like they don't have any real skills or abilities and it's a bullshit degree. Oh wait...
          • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @11:07AM (#36763870)

            They're not, actually. A frightening amount of the nonsense that got us into this mess is precisely what they teach you NOT to do in business school. Unfortunately, organizations are often run by people with huge egos who are motivated solely by power and wealth. These qualities serve you well in getting to the top of an organization. They don't predispose you to listen to people who actually know things, whether those people have MBAs or PhDs, or whatever degree in a technical discipline you happen to favor.

            Honestly, most of the nutty things I see done in business are done by people in leadership positions who don't have MBAs.

            • by hey! (33014)

              Nothing surprising in that. Think of what the world would be like if nobody rationalized doing things they knew very well were a bad idea. A world in which smart people never did anything stupid.

              I heard a quite interesting theory about the change in the business culture in the US during the 1980s. In the 50s and 60s, the business culture was influenced by people who had fought in WW2. Those men had a sense of solidarity with the people working for them and a duty towards them. They had sense that the guy

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "I am coming to believe that we need to look at NASA's mission and alter it for the post Cold-War era."

        Get rid of NASA as it exists, switch to missions where the humans stay on Earth, and let the rest of the world spend their money on manned entertainment (it's not "exploration").

        Instead of doing for the rest of the world what it should do for itself, we can sit back and reap the benefits.

        There are many countries which have no space program and do just fine. Germany is the worlds second largest exporter, fa

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Germany participates in the ESA. So technically they do have a space program.

        • by compro01 (777531)

          Germany is the worlds second largest exporter, far more efficient in every way than the US, and doesn't bother with space exploration because it isn't useful to them.

          Germany certainly has a space program, the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (trans: German Center for Aerospace ). They're also part of the European Space Agency (The main ESA astronaut training center is located in Cologne and mission control is in Darmstadt). Their budget is considerably smaller (€1.4 billion or about $2 billion USD), but it does exist and do stuff.

          They just don't do launches themselves as their latitude makes it impractical (their furthest south point is 47 degrees,

        • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Thursday July 14, 2011 @11:15AM (#36764012)

          Get rid of NASA as it exists, switch to missions where the humans stay on Earth, and let the rest of the world spend their money on manned entertainment (it's not "exploration").

          You do realize what the first "A" in NASA stands for, right? Aeronautics - NASA actually performs a lot of R&D on stuff that moves through the air. Space is a big part of their budget because it's so expensive, so their aeronautical research divisions tend to go unnoticed.

          NASA started as NACA (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics), and it's still a huge (and quite important) part of NASA's work. It's just the work they do isn't as flashy.

        • "Get rid of NASA as it exists, switch to missions where the humans stay on Earth, and let the rest of the world spend their money on manned entertainment (it's not 'exploration')."

          No. Leave NASA alone to do what it is good at: robotics. Leave manned spaceflight to people who actually have balls and brains, like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Burt Rutan. (Burt has officially retired; we are sorry to see him go but what a run he had! No less than 4 of the craft he designed are in the Smithsonian.)

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        In short, the answer is yes, management is that bad at NASA.

        ...yet we can still afford two billion a year to air-condition the tents in Afghanistan/Iraq.

    • by Moryath (553296) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @09:34AM (#36762632)

      It's quite simple.

      Every time the "budget for NASA" is drawn up, it's not the actual NASA budget. If NASA were able to put the money where it was needed, they'd be in a lot better shape.

      What Congress does instead is writes a "NASA budget" with a fuck-ton of strings attached. They give a "budget" for various missions, not overall. They cover salaries and the funding of various project bids, which can't be reassigned until Congress writes the next "NASA Budget."

      Add to that the fact that NASA projects are usually on the order of a decade long, and most of these Congressional Fuckwits from either party are up for reelection (and a lot get replaced) every couple years, then come in and rewrite the budget and re-earmark things to the states of whatever party's in power to the loss of the states that aren't.

      The current, added problem is that the Republicans - the party currently with "power of the purse" - have a hate-on for NASA because NASA was actually DOING the climate research and ongoing studies in response to screams of "global climate change is a myth, there's not enough research." The cuckoo clock wing of the party wants to kill NASA right now because they don't want there to BE enough research, ever.

      • by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Thursday July 14, 2011 @10:02AM (#36762986) Homepage

        I remember from a book discussing the Hubble Space Telescope that a significant political problem that NASA faces is the shifting political winds with regard to space exploration. If NASA put in a request for how much a project would actually cost, then the project would never be funded because of the "why are we spending so much on space when there are people starving in America" crowd. Thus, NASA would put in a low-ball request, which would be stuffed through. The sub-contractors would have to cut corners to meet the low-ball bid. Of course, these cut corners eventually result in huge catastrophes such as a defective main mirror on the space telescope. However, at that point, so much money has been put into the project that asking for a few billion more seems more attractive than losing all the money already spent.

        If politicians would fund NASA appropriately, and more importantly, if they could commit to a certain level of funding past the current administration, then things would probably (not certainly) better. But NASA lives in fear that every four years, its budget might be eliminated. The current movement away from NASA-designed lift vehicles would be a good thing in this regard. If private enterprise were providing all the launch vehicles, NASA could spend the money more effectively on space exploration while other agencies such as the NSA, NRO, Air Force, etc. helped subsidize the research on the private launchers.

        Just my two cents.

        • and tell everyone you can spy on terrorists with it, it would have prevented 9/11, etc etc etc.

          then it would get funded in a heartbeat.

          i have heard that this is how eisenhower managed to get the interstate highway system built

        • by Moryath (553296)

          This was part of the problem so frustrating about the space shuttle program. Originally, the shuttles were supposed to fly a LOT more missions and do a lot more. For one example: the fuel boosters were originally designed to be carried into space as reusable modules to add to a space station. Politics killed that part.

          There were originally supposed to be a lot more launches, but Congress killed funding to produce enough shuttles and booster parts to make that a reality. Later dipshits in Congress would lame

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            This was part of the problem so frustrating about the space shuttle program. Originally, the shuttles were supposed to fly a LOT more missions and do a lot more. For one example: the fuel boosters were originally designed to be carried into space as reusable modules to add to a space station. Politics killed that part.

            If I remember correctly, the Nixon administration told NASA how big a budget they could expect to have in the future and told them to design a program within that budget that they could push to Congress. NASA came back with a far more expensive program and acted surprised when they didn't get enough money.

          • by GooberToo (74388)

            Just about everything that was fucked up with the shuttle was fucked up by Congress and the Air Force.

        • Exactly, I would agree that NASA needs to take a look at their management chain but part of the chain they cant do anything about. The government is constantly readjusting their budget and not following through on promised funds. The politicians make the argument that there is work that needs to be done to bring jobs back. Yet despite all these cuts I don't see them doing anything useful, all the funding just heads to the military or bailing out some big business with worse management than NASA.

          Now don't ge

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Of course, these cut corners eventually result in huge catastrophes such as a defective main mirror on the space telescope.

          You do realize that the defective main mirror deformed by only a tiny amount, right? Something on the order of 2.2 micrometers (0.0000022 m, or 0.0022mm), and it wasn't defective that the telescope was useless. It was a well-characterized flaw and still managed a lot of useful work in the meantime. For a huge mirror, that's pretty impressive given if it was on earth, gravity would proba

          • by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Thursday July 14, 2011 @11:21AM (#36764100) Homepage

            You're missing the point: contemporary technology made it possible to make a better mirror. In fact, the backup mirror was perfect. The "small" error in the main mirror caused only 15% of the entering light to be focused properly. That's a huge consequence. Furthermore, the Hubble main mirror was only 94-inches in diameter. The largest earth-based telescopes have mirrors that are over four times wider.

            The mistake in the main mirror and the failure to catch it was the result of cost-cutting.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Of course, these cut corners eventually result in huge catastrophes such as a defective main mirror on the space telescope.

          What did that have to do with 'cost cutting'? It's not as though they bought a defective mirror because it was $500,000,000 cheaper, someone screwed up the measurements when building it.

          • Perkin Elmer, the contractor working on the lens hated NASA as a result of the shifting budget, and NASA hated Perkin Elmer for spending too much. This caused such a breakdown in their relationships that NASA basically stopped supervising PE. At the same time, PE did not put its best optical design men on the project to save money. PE actually caught the mistake with the main mirror on the ground, but they were so far behind schedule that they rushed it out the door. Backup lens ground using older technolog

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Mismanagment at NASA is shocking. I do IT work for several NASA funded earth science programs. They'll award you a 1 year grant and then it takes 13-14 months for the money to show up. Then they bitch about how you didn't spend the money in time. They are swining the budget axe across the board becuase they are re-routing all that money into the new manned space flight program. Whatever they call it now that Constellation is canceled, even though it uses the same vehicles as Constellation. Manned space fli
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      > Is mismanagement really that bad at NASA?
      From everybody I know who's ever worked with them.... yes.

      One of my friends had a five man company that made some esoteric part. NASA liked it, thought they could use it on the ISS. They made a deal. Which included NASA sending two guys to observe those five guys, full time, for eight months. The widgeteers had an aggressive development schedule they had to meet, and they had to do it while being continuously audited by two empty-headed challengeatrons.

      Anoth

    • Yes NASA isn't the best managed agency but it's rather simplistic to say that they're given more money but they can't do as much as in the past. You're ignoring that NASA has been asked to do more than in the past. Putting a man (or anything) on Mars is an order of magnitude more expensive and difficult than putting something on the moon. While they are given some increase in budget, it's not an order of magnitude more.
      • But NASA hasn't put a man on Mars. It hasn't even done a complete study of *how* to put a man on Mars. On the other hand, while NASA's budget is considerably up from its low point, it should be noted that it's still much lower (in constant dollars) than it was at the height of the Moon missions.

        • Yes but it's been asked to plan for one. Planning for one isn't simply putting some engineers in a room with coffee and donuts for a day. Engineers are probably working on discrete problems like sanitation, payload, communications, etc. While they won't have all the details just yet, they are formulating the questions to be answered. For example NASA funded the long term bed rest study to understand microgravity effects which will come into play.
    • by TWX (665546)

      If I remember correctly, the space race of the sixties and early seventies cost the US almost 1% of GDP to operate. The program also took lots of risks and resulted in the deaths of three Astronauts. We were competing for what we thought was our very existence against the biggest threat we had ever faced, an enemy who had stated their intent to ideologically turn us into them.

      The Shuttle program of the eighties, which had military considerations (hence being a plane, along the lines of the X-20 Dyna-Soar)

      • by arth1 (260657)

        If I remember correctly, the space race of the sixties and early seventies cost the US almost 1% of GDP to operate.

        And has given us back far more than that!

        The program also took lots of risks and resulted in the deaths of three Astronauts.

        Compared with the seven that blew up in Challenger, I think that just goes to show how much better driven it was when politicians didn't want to micro-manage and required so much bureaucratic overhead that only a tiny amount of the money handed to NASA can actually be spent on real engineers, real parts, real scientists and not on even more paper pushers to satisfy a certain breed of politicians who cry "oversight, accountability" without allocating extra funds to pa

    • Can someone please explain to me why despite the fairly linear rising budget of NASA [wikipedia.org] we are shutting everything down right now? Is mismanagement really that bad at NASA? Is it saddled with debt from past programs?

      I don't get it. It's like I'm watching my generation drop the ball despite all the obvious reasons in my mind to establish a presence off this rock. "Oh, my parents' generation put people on the moon. Not only did my generation stop putting people and telescopes in space, we also made ground observatories illegal and have re-instituted burning people who claim the Earth is not the center of the universe. Why? Because it was more affordable in the very immediate future."

      Maybe NASA is that mismanaged, but your own link includes a graph showing that NASA's budget has been in general decline since 1991: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1a/NASA_budget_linegraph_BH.PNG [wikimedia.org]

    • by perryizgr8 (1370173) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @10:02AM (#36762978)

      i don't gt it. the budget of nasa in 2011 is 19 billion $. if you adjust for 2007 dollars, this is quite low considering 1991 had 19 billion, and every year in the '60s had considerably more.
      as a % of budget, the nasa budget has been close to 1%, and 3-4% during the '60s. in 2011: 19B/3.8T=0.5%. this is the LOWEST ever in nasa's history. how can you expect greater things if you just don't give them money? spacex has done some things for cheap. but those things are just that: cheap. not groundbreaking, not furthering research, just plain cheap ways to do what has been surpassed many times by what nasa has repeatedly done.

    • by zill (1690130)
      If the NASA budget is linearly rising, then the value of the money they receive is exponentially declining due to inflation.
  • As massively over budget, mismanaged, and failings to meet timelines as this project has been, maybe it's time to kill it. I know it would be capable of wonderful science, but sometimes you just need to cut your losses.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 5 days of worth of sustaining the wars funds the James Webb Telescope.

  • Solution. (Score:5, Funny)

    by softWare3ngineer (2007302) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @09:30AM (#36762580)
    Tell congress that they can turn it around and use it as a spy satellite. Then attach it to the defense budget.
  • No one will openly say it, but the U.S. doesn't have the money for space projects anymore. No politician wants to be the first to say it (because Americans don't like to hear anything besides "We're Number One!!!!"), so they're just quietly defunding everything.

    • by ArcherB (796902)

      No one will openly say it, but the U.S. doesn't have the money for space projects anymore. No politician wants to be the first to say it (because Americans don't like to hear anything besides "We're Number One!!!!"), so they're just quietly defunding everything.

      No, the US has plenty of money for space projects. The problem is priorities and compromise. We'd rather fund someone to NOT work for two years than fund a space agency. We would rather fund farmers to NOT grow something than fund a space agency. We would rather emulate the health care system of nations that have neither a military nor a space program but pay higher taxes and think that we can still have all three without paying more in taxes. And the problem with compromise is that Democrats will say,

  • NASA's eulogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @09:49AM (#36762816) Journal
    This is the true cost of the Iraq War. Such a shame.
    • Who the hell modded this man Troll? This is 100% correct, this IS the true cost of spending all your money on pointless wars - everything else has to suffer.
    • this is correct. the troll mod shows the degradation of the american society. the same people who once rallied behind their president and went for zero to moon in nine years can't even put a man in leo right now, and can't replace their old telescope.

    • Why is this modded Troll? If you look at NASA's funding historically you would see that during NASA's golden age, the Apollo program, funding levels for NASA were closer in the ball park to funding levels for the current Iraq war. When there is only so much money to go around, you can buy guns, butter, or science: pick one.
  • For those that don't know James Webb was planned to be the successor to Hubble as it was supposed to see further than Hubble or ground based observatories. Also it was designed to observe in infrared rather than visible.
  • If the thing is half built or more, then why cancel it. That is a real waste of money. You don't half do things, you find things that are yet to be started and cut those!
    • by Rolgar (556636)

      Fund it the old way, with private money. Business people who have acquired tens of millions or more money tend to know how to hold people accountable. If you give some benevolent millionaires and billionaires the opportunity to invest, with the understanding that they'll receive plenty of recognition, or the ability to auction the access time scientists want to buy (money they can get when they request funding for their research), you might be surprised at how quickly they will pony up the money, and how qu

  • Maybe we can get the Chinese to put this thing up? We can probably sell what's been done so far to them to take over. Be less wasteful than tossing it to the scrap pile.
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      the Chinese have their own space program with various observatories on earth and launched, with more planned
  • by C_Kode (102755) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @10:08AM (#36763042) Journal

    Don't cancel it, just go through the project management and fire everyone who was mismanaging it causing it to go so far over-budget.

    It probably had illegal crap involved such and kick-backs and over-charging. This is one reason why letting private companies develop these types of projects rather than government do it is usually so much cheaper. I think the same thing happen to the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) down in Waxahachie, Texas when the budgeted $4.4B practically tripled to over $12B

    • by Soft (266615)

      Don't cancel it, just go through the project management and fire everyone who was mismanaging it causing it to go so far over-budget.

      AFAICT, the reason why it's going so high over budget is that the budget itself was massively low-balled to begin with, so that the project would have a chance of being approved. In other words: lie about the true costs, they'll have to give you more later, when it's too high-profile to cancel.

      The "mismanagement" here is that it wasn't spotted earlier. You can fire them, b

    • by JamesP (688957)

      I don't agree with most of your comments, but I'm thinking about the over-budgeting thing.

      The problem with NASA is that they want to do EVERYTHING from scratch.

      New mission? New platform. New launch platform? new. New rover on Mars? Rebuild

      Ares/Constellation. Money sink. Rebuild, rebuild, rebuild! And really, ARES looked like it suffered from NIH syndrome (maybe it should be called 'not invented by us syndrome'). And absolutely underwhelming.

      Risk and cost goes up, payoff goes down.

      Really, NASA should do a sa

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Ares/Constellation. Money sink. Rebuild, rebuild, rebuild! And really, ARES looked like it suffered from NIH syndrome (maybe it should be called 'not invented by us syndrome'). And absolutely underwhelming.

        The Ares problem was precisely the opposite: everything had to be shuttle-derived to 'save money' and as a result they spent more to put a fake upper stage on top of an SRB and fire it into the sea than SpaceX spent to design and build a new rocket engine and two new rockets and launch them into orbit.

  • The future of space research, exploration and exploitation belongs to China. This is because they have a government that can reliable implement long term plans. As opposed to us in the West who cannot because as soon as our governments are elected they have to start campaigning for re-election, which invariably means killing of the last government's projects, as opposed to effectively running their countries utilizing secure long term planing relating to all fields not just space.
    • The future of space research, exploration and exploitation belongs to China. This is because they have a government that can reliable implement long term plans.

      As I recall from my childhood, the same thing was being said, with "USSR" replacing "China".

      Alas, it turned out that the dictatorship of the proletariat was no more capable of long term planning than we were...

      • ussr!=china
        chinese govt officials are on record saying that their ultimate goal is a democracy. that the present situation is a compromise to make the chinese people ready for supremacy when it knocks on their door.

    • concerns about debt.

      corruption

      Experts have questioned the safety

      There is also so much wear on the tracks that costs for daily inspections, maintenance and repairs go up sharply.

      they have been slowed down

      high costs have resulted in at least some trains operating almost empty, industry experts say.

  • We spend trillion+ dollars per year on entitlements to people who don't work, and financing unjust foreign wars, yet we cannot afford to spend a few billion to complete the tool that will allow us to better understand the history of the universe? Come on... End the wars, cut off the entitlements, gradually shrink government to 75% of its current size, give all the money back to the taxpayer, and most importantly, end the Federal Reserve system which is a tax on anyone who holds wealth in dollars. Funding
    • by robot256 (1635039)
      So...you're saying we should eliminate most of the government *except* NASA? Is that the one thing out of everything the private sector can't do? Just curious because I totally wasn't expecting that from a Ron Paul supporter. Most libertarians say things like "sell it off" or "starve it to make it more efficient". And yes, I did just skim through several [dailypaul.com] pages [humblelibertarian.com] on the subject [ronpaulforums.com].
      • by rcb1974 (654474)
        I think there should be in existence somewhere on the planet an organization that does what NASA does. However, I think it would be difficult to get sufficient funding from the private sector to fund certain NASA projects such as the James Webb Space telescope (JWST). Do you see anyone in the private sector offering to buy up the JWST project at a reasonable price if NASA abandones it and were to offer it for sale? If you think it is important to get answers to questions surrounding the history of the un
      • no you should curb expenses, not eliminate everything. try to save on things like fucking airconditioning tents in afghanistan.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @10:50AM (#36763580) Homepage Journal
    Now's the time to put your money where your mouth is Slashdotters. Time and again we bemoan on this site that our politicians (in the U.S.) piss our tax dollars away on pork-ridden bills and unnecessary defense spending at the expense of science. Now is the time to let Congress know just how important we nerds find science like the JWST to be. There are at least two open letters to Congress written by folks on the internet. They can be found here [votizen.com] and here. [reddit.com]

    You can find your Congress-critter's mailing and contact information here [senate.gov] and here. [house.gov]

    It won't take you more than 10 minutes to print on of those letters, fold it up, stamp it, and mail it to your representative or senator. We 'dotters bring down entire websites when we care enough about an issue to RTFA. Now is the time to bring Congress's mailroom to a standstill by declaring, in one unified voice, "You won't ransack our science research anymore!"

    If we can afford two wars in the Middle East, Medicaire, Medicaide, and tax cuts for the rich assholes who are driving this country into the ground, then we can afford to build this telescope, not just for America, but for the continued progress and exploration of humanity in general.
  • NASA has, over time, become more and more dominated by the people who want to spend money on stuff, as opposed to the people who want to do stuff. This is not just increasing bureaucratization, but a form of corruption that the US government is prone to across the board. I have heard it naked expressed that the real purpose of NASA is to make sure certain DOD contractors make a profit.

    In other words, and to be blunt, building things shovels money into the pockets of politically well connected contractors. R

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      NASA has, over time, become more and more dominated by the people who want to spend money on stuff, as opposed to the people who want to do stuff.

      Perhaps true of the manned space program, but missions like the Webb are the real deal and have widespread support in the scientific community.

      What's worse to me is that, if it is funded and launched, it will probably be late, and will die well before any replacement, thus causing huge gaps in our ability to observe from above the atmosphere.

      I think that end-of-lifing of the Hubble ST is a major strategic blunder by NASA

      HST was a wonderful instrument, but it is simply not capable of doing the science that needs doing next, for example constraining the properties of Dark Energy or exploring the end of the cosmic "dark ages" at redshifts of 5-10. And repairing HST was never cost-effective: the repair missions cost roughly as much as building a new telescope [space.com].

    • by robot256 (1635039)

      I have heard it naked expressed that the real purpose of NASA is to make sure certain DOD contractors make a profit.

      And I've heard that the NASA divisions of certain DOD contractors never turn a profit. They only do it for shits and giggles, somewhere to stick people without a contract, and can charge enough in contract overage to cover their costs.

      In other words, and to be blunt, building things shovels money into the pockets of politically well connected contractors. Running things, not so much.

      No argument there.

      However, the flip side of this is that it is much easier to shut down a not-yet-built program, than to shut down an existing one. So, the Hubble Space Telescope (which is still functioning well, and could probably be kept going for decades), is viewed as obsolete, and is shut down by NASA managers. The Webb (which is not intended for on-orbit servicing, and so will only last 5 years or so), is beloved by NASA managers, but is an obvious target for cost-cutters in the Congress. What's worse to me is that, if it is funded and launched, it will probably be late, and will die well before any replacement, thus causing huge gaps in our ability to observe from above the atmosphere.

      The only reason Hubble kept going was because of the shuttle servicing missions. It cost about $2b to make. For the price of the five servicing missions (>$4b) we could have built and launched several new telescopes with the same or better upgraded tech

The difficult we do today; the impossible takes a little longer.

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