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Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with hammers

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signerror
#1
Jul7-11, 02:19 AM
P: 223

Or it might as well be, the result would be the same. Dennis Overbye in the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/science/07webb.html

Panel Proposes Killing Webb Space Telescope

The House Appropriations Committee proposed Wednesday to kill the James Webb Space Telescope, the crown jewel of NASA’s astronomy plans for the next two decades.

The telescope, named after a former administrator of NASA, is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and it was designed to study the first stars and galaxies that emerged in the first hundred million years or so after the Big Bang.

It was supposed to be launched in 2014, but NASA said last year that the project would require at least an additional $1.6 billion and several more years to finish, because of mismanagement.

According to this article (found on wikipedia), the project cost ballooned from $1.6 billion to a current $6.8 billion, which I would imagine made it a conspicuous target.

http://www.floridatoday.com/article/...urs-NASA-funds

According to this NASA budget, spending on James Webb in 2010 was $439 million, compared with spending on frivolous nonsense such as $3.3 billion for "Human Exploration Capabilities", $3.1 billion for the Space Scuttle, and $2.3 billion for the International Space Westin.

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/516674main_N...erview-508.pdf
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mege
#2
Jul7-11, 03:23 AM
P: 193
Drunks with hammers? You mean the NASA folks that floundered several billion dollars? (and want more)

It's tragic that the telescope may be cancelled, but the fault isn't that of Congress (unless there's some directives they gave which caused price bloating that I don't know about). I find it very interesting that the NYT article doesn't give the total price tag or reasons which would let congress off the hook, but instead focuses on the 'tragedy for cosmology' with as few facts as possible in an attempt to indict congress.

The Florida Today piece you linked had a segment which I think describes it accurately:

The Independent Comprehensive Review Panel concluded NASA needed to make immediate management changes mostly because leaders had not questioned and verified enough of what they were being told. The review panel recommended NASA headquarters take control, starting with a new cost estimate and schedule more in line with reality.


The experts’ estimate Webb might now cost $6.8 billion sparked criticism and worry in Congress and the scientific community.


“Simply put, we are not in the business of cost overruns,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, chair of a NASA oversight committee, in a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Bolden later said he will stretch the telescope’s schedule, and budget, rather than ask Congress for more money in the short term.
Born2bwire
#3
Jul7-11, 03:54 AM
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Yeah, as much as I hate seeing scientific research funding being cut, we can't reward such inextricably bad management here. The bottom line is that this is a program that has overrun its originally approved budget by 425%. Look at it this way, they originally thought they could do this on a budget X. What other kinds of projects can be done with $X? Continuing to fund this project means we've lost funding for 3 of those projects. Not that I'm under the illusion that Congress would give up the extra money regardless but the point is that there are limited funds and we need to start thinking about what projects are really worth putting money into.

Mech_Engineer
#4
Jul7-11, 12:24 PM
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Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with hammers

$6.8 billion is a truly monumental amount of money to be applied on a single project in science... It seems pretty amazing to me that this single telescope would cost that much money- the entire National Ignition Facility cost less than 5 billion!

Imagine the size of a ground-based telescope array that could be built for 6.8 billion, the OLT was estimated to cost around $2.1bil in a feasability study, maybe we should build 3 of them with money to spare?
signerror
#5
Jul7-11, 05:23 PM
P: 223
Quote Quote by Mech_Engineer View Post
$6.8 billion is a truly monumental amount of money to be applied on a single project in science... It seems pretty amazing to me that this single telescope would cost that much money- the entire National Ignition Facility cost less than 5 billion!

Imagine the size of a ground-based telescope array that could be built for 6.8 billion, the OLT was estimated to cost around $2.1bil in a feasability study, maybe we should build 3 of them with money to spare?
But are those fair comparisons? Hubble cost $1.5 billion at launch ($2.5 billion inflation-adjusted), and $10 billion over its entire program.

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/09/us...pagewanted=all

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/08/137040...ccessors-costs


Quote Quote by Born2bwire View Post
Yeah, as much as I hate seeing scientific research funding being cut, we can't reward such inextricably bad management here. The bottom line is that this is a program that has overrun its originally approved budget by 425%. Look at it this way, they originally thought they could do this on a budget X. What other kinds of projects can be done with $X? Continuing to fund this project means we've lost funding for 3 of those projects. Not that I'm under the illusion that Congress would give up the extra money regardless but the point is that there are limited funds and we need to start thinking about what projects are really worth putting money into.
Aren't space telescopes supposed to be one of the top priorities of NASA, in terms of actual science? James Webb suffered ugly project mismanagement, but then so do most government megaprojects. The Space Shuttle cost $196 billion. The ISS cost ~$100 billion, and it'll be deorbited as soon as it is completed.

http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-0...ator-hans-mark

http://www.space.com/9435-internatio...0-billion.html

If there's prioritizing to be done, I say eliminate all human projects and spend on actual science.
Vanadium 50
#6
Jul7-11, 06:34 PM
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How large a cost overrun should be tolerated before throwing in the towel? $1B? $10B? $100B? At some point you have to draw a line.

JWST's cost overuns alone would allow one to launch two more Hubbles (with good mirrirs this time) and three more Spitzers. And $6.8B is optimistic - assuming a 2018 launch. Make it 2020 or 2021 and it will be $8B or 8.5B.

Put another way, the JWST overruns have already cost the space program MAX-C and LISA, and put the final nail in the coffin of the Terrestrial Planet Finder. It is about to cost us the Jupiter Europa Orbiter and quite possibly a Uranus orbiter. It is putting WFIRST (the last surviving top priority project) in a very precarious position, in part because the WFIRST proposed cost is exactly that of the JWST proposed cost.
DaleSwanson
#7
Jul7-11, 06:53 PM
P: 351
On the one hand:
While it is awful that the money has been so mismanaged, once the management is fired how would continuing the project be rewarding mismanagement? The money spent so far is a sunk cost and shouldn't weigh in on the debate to continue funding or not. The only question that matters is if the science is worth the $x billion more it will cost.

On the other hand:
Mech_Engineer raises a good point about the OLT. While doing things in space has a certain awesome factor, I find it hard to justify spending more for a telescope that will be less capable.
mege
#8
Jul8-11, 12:03 AM
P: 193
Quote Quote by signerror View Post
But are those fair comparisons? Hubble cost $1.5 billion at launch ($2.5 billion inflation-adjusted), and $10 billion over its entire program.

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/09/us...pagewanted=all

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/08/137040...ccessors-costs




Aren't space telescopes supposed to be one of the top priorities of NASA, in terms of actual science? James Webb suffered ugly project mismanagement, but then so do most government megaprojects. The Space Shuttle cost $196 billion. The ISS cost ~$100 billion, and it'll be deorbited as soon as it is completed.

http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-0...ator-hans-mark

http://www.space.com/9435-internatio...0-billion.html

If there's prioritizing to be done, I say eliminate all human projects and spend on actual science.
1) For all it's underachieving, the space shuttle has accomplished many different missions. It alone helped enable hundreds of projects at (I'd expect) lower cost than a disposable launch. My main point is: comparing the multi-mission space shuttle to a single (or limited) mission device like the JWST isn't proper. They're apples and watermelons.
2) The ISS has cost the US 'only' 1/2 of the total, and again - it's accomplishing many different projects simultaneously and throughout it's lifecycle.
3) Regarding hubble: once it proved itself, they started add/changing components to update it. But that was after it proved itself as a resource, so we got 3-5 generations of equipment out of the HST for the cost of what it's going to be to START the JWST.
4) Human projects: I think they already are prioritizing away manned flight, esspecially since the cancellation of the Constelation program.


Your comparison, IMO, is like trying to justify the cost of a single ornate Mississippi river bridge by comparing it to the entire cost of the Eisenhower Interstate System. They're different scales, different usages, and different functionalities. Both are ways for vehicles to travel and the money may come from the same place, but the similarities stop there and they're not mutually exclusive.
kgbgru
#9
Jul8-11, 02:49 AM
P: 25
Personally I'd like to see them bring back JIMO, but I hate for JWST to die because of bureaucratic nonsence and poor management within NASA. I understand the need to hurl humans into space but we often forget how much we can learn just by looking and watching.
WhoWee
#10
Jul8-11, 05:16 AM
P: 1,123
Given this is a Politics thread - I'm in favor of adding little boxes to the tax return document - donate (from your return) $10, $20, $50, $100 - and a write-in box - for direct investment in whatever agency needs cash - show a list. Even a poor person receiving a $5,000 EITC can "afford" $10.
Dadface
#11
Jul8-11, 05:53 AM
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One thing for sure is that it is a beautiful structure.If they scrap it I'm going to try to retrieve it from the rubbish bins and assemble it as an ornament in my garden.
D H
#12
Jul8-11, 08:32 AM
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First and foremost, the federal government has to cut spending everywhere. They are currently spending more than 40% more than they take in. The easiest place to cut is that small 10% or so sliver of the federal budget on non-defense discretionary spending. As NASA is a small sliver of that small sliver, NASA can only look forward to substantial cuts.

Quote Quote by Dadface View Post
One thing for sure is that it is a beautiful structure.
That "beautiful structure" is a big part of the problem. It is a beautiful but incredibly convoluted and expensive structure. A smaller, monolithic structure wouldn't have been near so pretty, but it would have cost a lot less, and the science would have still been top-notch. The design decision to double the diameter (and hence quadruple the area) did not take into account that doing so would more than quadruple the cost but would yield a lot less than quadruple the science outcome. Sometimes making things bigger/better makes sense because of economies of scale. Economy of scale is not a given. Sometimes you get diseconomies of scale, and that is exactly what happened with JWST.

Quote Quote by signerror View Post
According to this NASA budget, spending on James Webb in 2010 was $439 million, compared with spending on frivolous nonsense such as $3.3 billion for "Human Exploration Capabilities", $3.1 billion for the Space Scuttle, and $2.3 billion for the International Space Westin.
There's no reason to do that. There are plenty of people, including congresscritters, who could make derogatory remarks about space science. To many people, human spaceflight is the primary reason NASA deserves any funding whatsoever. Others think that human spaceflight and space science should somehow complement one another. It is only a very small minority who think space science is the primary reason NASA deserves any funding whatsoever.
Vanadium 50
#13
Jul8-11, 10:10 AM
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Quote Quote by DaleSwanson View Post
On the one hand: While it is awful that the money has been so mismanaged, once the management is fired how would continuing the project be rewarding mismanagement?
Once management is fired? That will never happen. NASA has convinced themselves and Congress that the are the only people who can manage this and that whoever they put in charge is the best possible person, and even in the case of a complete disaster, nobody could have done better. They may be right.

The way you manage a $500M or less project is different than the way you manage a $5B project. In the former case, you keep to your budget religiously. In the latter case, you make the most recklessly optimistic baseline budget you think you can get away with, and then once too much money has been committed to back out, then you start overrunning.

The problem with an honest estimate here is that even if you provide one, Congress will think you are lowballing and will double the price in their heads anyway.

Quote Quote by DaleSwanson View Post
The money spent so far is a sunk cost and shouldn't weigh in on the debate to continue funding or not. The only question that matters is if the science is worth the $x billion more it will cost.
It's overrunning at about $500M per year. That's one Spitzer (or equivalent) every 18 months.
KenJackson
#14
Jul9-11, 01:25 PM
P: 19
Quote Quote by WhoWee View Post
... I'm in favor of adding little boxes to the tax return document - donate (from your return) $10, $20, $50, $100 - and a write-in box - for direct investment in whatever agency needs cash - show a list. ...
That's a good-hearted thought. But foolish.

If you work, you've been sending thousands of Social Security dollars to Washington every year to save or invest for your retirement. But has Congress saved or invested your hard-earned money? No! They've wantonly squandered it on anything they though would get them reelected.

If you give Congress more money for project X, they'll take the money, ignore your designation and use it as they see fit.
KenJackson
#15
Jul9-11, 02:01 PM
P: 19
I can't condemn the condemnation of any project that runs so far over budget.

But it should be noted why this thing cost so much to begin with. I think it was this article in Scientific American magazine (though I can't seem to access it now even though I subscribe) that explained how they are making those beautiful mirrors.

They are made out of beryllium because it's so lightweight. But like everything, they will warp when subjected to near absolute zero of space. So how do they account for the warping? They ship the pieces to some facility in Huntsville, Alabama that lowers the temperature to something like 50K while they measure the warping and compare with what it has to be to get an in-spec image. Then they ship it back and grind it some more. And the cycle repeats.
WhoWee
#16
Jul10-11, 12:04 AM
P: 1,123
Quote Quote by KenJackson View Post
That's a good-hearted thought. But foolish.

If you work, you've been sending thousands of Social Security dollars to Washington every year to save or invest for your retirement. But has Congress saved or invested your hard-earned money? No! They've wantonly squandered it on anything they though would get them reelected.

If you give Congress more money for project X, they'll take the money, ignore your designation and use it as they see fit.
I must disagree - if given a choice - I'll designate thousands of my tax dollars to projects that might someday help mankind progress - rather than give my money to a bum that games he system and chooses not to work! Again - IMO!
MTd2
#17
Jul13-11, 01:11 PM
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Who am I to criticize? I am not an US citizen. But cutting back of this extraordinary mission and other important missions and increasing the military spending is a way to accelerate the demise of USA as the most powerful country. It is fair and democratic in the long run, given that India and China have both together 9 times the population of USA, so they deserve to have an opportunity to lead the science as soon as possible.

But given that it will just take too long, if I were an US citizen, I would gladly plead for an increase of, say 20% in taxes, even in my earnings, overall, to keep and improve such missions.
DaveC426913
#18
Jul13-11, 01:44 PM
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drunks with hammers?

You are the winner of 10 million dollars!!!
(...is what we could be saying to you if you fill out this form...)

I look forward to your next post, where you try to get my attention with mention of the bat faced boy from The Enquirer...


hmph.


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