The draft Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill released Wednesday by the House Appropriations Committee attracted considerable attention in the space community because of its plan to terminate funding for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, part of nearly $2 billion in overall cuts from the administration’s request. Astronomers in particular have been particularly outspoken about the plan to kill JWST, which has suffered from major cost overruns and schedule delays.
“Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA’s science program,” William S. Smith, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), said in a statement issued by the organization Wednesday afternoon. Dan Clemens, chair of AURA’s board, added in the release that JWST has been previously identified by astronomers as NASA’s highest priority astronomy mission. “The importance of its science has only increased since then. I hope that this year’s final appropriations bill will provide the needed support to complete this program.”
In a “Take Action Alert” emailed by The Planetary Society last night, executive director Bill Nye put the blame for JWST’s proposed demise on another NASA program, the Space Launch System (SLS), which would get slightly more money than the administration requested for 2012. “The congressionally designed machine called the Space Launch System could go down in history as the rocket that destroyed NASA’s space program,” he writes in the email. He notes that besides JWST, NASA’s commercial crew program could also be “hit hard” by the cuts. “What is causing such carnage? It’s not just the weakened U.S. economy. It’s the giant Space Launch System, a rocket legislated by Congress and signed into law by the President. It’s got no destination and no mission to fulfill.”
Nye asked people to contact Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, and ask him to reverse this plan. “Please let him know that this proposal — to be voted on tomorrow — would spell disaster for space exploration, now and for generations to come,” Nye said. However, time is short: Wolf’s subcommittee will formally mark up the appropriations bill Thursday morning at 10:15 am. That markup, though, is just one round of what may be a long and bruising fight for the future of NASA and especially JWST.