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

1. Jul 7, 2011

### signerror

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" [Broken]

According to this article (found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope" [Broken]), 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/20110605/NEWS01/110604013/Telescope-debacle-devours-NASA-funds" [Broken]

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_NASAFY12_Budget_Estimates-Overview-508.pdf" [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
2. Jul 7, 2011

### mege

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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:

3. Jul 7, 2011

### Born2bwire

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

Imagine the size of a ground-based telescope array that could be built for 6.8 billion, the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overwhelmingly_Large_Telescope" [Broken] was estimated to cost around $2.1bil in a feasability study, maybe we should build 3 of them with money to spare? Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017 5. Jul 7, 2011 ### signerror Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham 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/telescope-is-set-to-peer-at-space-and-time.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/08/137040818/scientists-undeterred-by-hubble-successors-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://www.space.com/9435-international-space-station-worth-100-billion.html

If there's prioritizing to be done, I say eliminate all human projects and spend on actual science.

Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
6. Jul 7, 2011

Staff Emeritus
Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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 $8B or 8.5B. Put another way, the JWST overruns have already cost the space program MAX-C and LISA, and put the final nail in the coffin of the Terrestrial Planet Finder. It is about to cost us the Jupiter Europa Orbiter and quite possibly a Uranus orbiter. It is putting WFIRST (the last surviving top priority project) in a very precarious position, in part because the WFIRST proposed cost is exactly that of the JWST proposed cost. 7. Jul 7, 2011 ### DaleSwanson Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham On the one hand: While it is awful that the money has been so mismanaged, once the management is fired how would continuing the project be rewarding mismanagement? The money spent so far is a sunk cost and shouldn't weigh in on the debate to continue funding or not. The only question that matters is if the science is worth the$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.

8. Jul 8, 2011

### mege

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
9. Jul 8, 2011

### kgbgru

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

10. Jul 8, 2011

### WhoWee

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

11. Jul 8, 2011

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

12. Jul 8, 2011

### D H

Staff Emeritus
Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

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.

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.

13. Jul 8, 2011

Staff Emeritus
Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

It's overrunning at about \$500M per year. That's one Spitzer (or equivalent) every 18 months.

14. Jul 9, 2011

### KenJackson

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

15. Jul 9, 2011

### KenJackson

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

16. Jul 10, 2011

### WhoWee

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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!

17. Jul 13, 2011

### MTd2

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

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.

18. Jul 13, 2011

### DaveC426913

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

drunks with hammers? :grumpy:

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.

19. Jul 13, 2011

### mege

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

In the case of NASA cuts - it's not a zero sum game. Much of the military spending is non-budgetary anyhow (there are some effects, but they're not tugging from other things like you may think). NASA is seeing cuts because of it's lack of management and an overall tightening of strings - which because of it's cost overruns across the board is being hit doubly hard. Blaming the 'wars' for NASA's budget problems that have been going on for decades doesn't really hold much weight.

20. Jul 13, 2011

### MTd2

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

So, the extra costs of war in Afghanistan, the countless military bases of US around the world are not a non budgetary spending?

21. Jul 13, 2011

### mege

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

The 'war' in Afghanistan was just now partially budgeted for the first time in 2010or 2011(I forget which cycle it actually hit?). Before that it was all non-budgetary. There's still a chunk that's appropriated outside the budget.

The military bases are budgetary. I wonder how the economy of Frankfurt, Germany would be doing if it wasn't for that large military presence? Many of the bases are from past arrangements with the local countrys and not just unilateral US presences (esspecailly the largest bases). It would take both the US, the host country, and maybe another governing body (NATO, etc) to agree to let them go. With as integral as those bases have become to some of those localities - I doubt the locals want to see them go any time soon.

While many see the bases are just raw one-sided hegemony, there is definatly more to it than that.

22. Jul 14, 2011

### MTd2

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

So, the ideal would be retreat all bases, retreat in all war missions, cut the budget and non budgetary money at least by 80%, excluding those for paycheck and routine maintenance. The cut military contract all be converted into civilian projects.

23. Jul 14, 2011

### D H

Staff Emeritus
Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

Most US citizens beg to differ. Valid or not, the general perception in this country is that taxes are already too high. Moreover, a 20% across the board increase in the tax rate will not solve the US budget problem. Things will still need to be cut. Projects such as this that are mismanaged, over budget, behind schedule are still going to be targets for those necessary cuts.

24. Jul 14, 2011

### MTd2

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

Yeah, I am aware of that. I was just saying what I would do to keep the leadership of my country. Although I have no proof that this project is considerably mismanaged, given that a lot of technologies had to developed and so over budget was necessary and also possibly rewarding.

Oh well, what can I say? Because of this culture, rewarding military and personal overspending with useless vanity products, instead of science, that USA will fail soon. I hope China will have a science minded attitude when they take over the 1st spot of USA in 6 years or so.

If JWST is cancelled, this will be the historic mark, for me, that the high spot of USA has entered in the stage of decline.

25. Jul 14, 2011

### mege

Re: Beautiful mirrors of James Webb space telescope may be smashed by drunks with ham

Even with all of the US's overspending, as you put it, the country still spends 3x more on space per year than all of Europe combined. (~18bill for NASA and ~4.5bill for the ESA and 1bill each in Italy and Frace).