NASA's James Webb telescope, the successor to the Hubble, is on the chopping block. With the U.S. Congress arguing over fiscal matters, one of the things that may get cut is NASA's budget, with the expensive James Webb telescope potentially getting the ax. If that happens, a generation of scientific discoveries about the nature of the universe may need to be put on hold.
Right now the future of the Webb telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, is uncertain. Congress is looking to cut costs, and NASA's budget could be cut by as much as $1.6 billion (or about nine percent of its overall budget). Such a big cut would certainly be the death knell for the Webb telescope, which has so far cost $3 billion but whose final price is expected to hit the $6.8-billion mark.
"The cost overruns are driven by a couple things," says Rick Howard, the program director of the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA. "We've had ten or so technologies that needed to work in order to have this kind of telescope—mirrors actuators, the sunshade. We've made great progress, but it's taken longer and it's been harder than we thought. We've had to invent new adhesives for carbon fiber because what we thought was the right chemical equation didn't work at all. Another source was inadequate early funding of reserves."