On July 6th, 2011, the House appropriations committee released a draft bill that proposes a NASA budget reduced by $1.9 billion below the President's 2012 request. Under this bill, NASA's Science Programs will be reduced by $431 million relative to last year's level, and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) would be terminated. For those interested, we summarize several important aspects of JWST including the Observatory’s current status and expected research impact.
JWST ENSURES LEADERSHIP IN SPACE SCIENCE
JWST is recognized as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and will ensure US leadership in space astronomy for the next decade. The telescope is the cornerstone of future space astronomy and is the foundation upon which the 2010 Astronomy Decadal Survey, "New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics", was built.
JWST OPENS NEW FRONTIERS IN ASTROPHYSICS
There is no mission planned either by NASA or any other space agency that can achieve the science goals of JWST. These goals are transformative and will open a new era in astrophysics:
- JWST will see the first stars and galaxies, and follow the Universe's ionization history.
- JWST will study the assembly and evolution of galaxies and their dark matter, stars, and metals.
- JWST will find liquid water on planets around other stars.
- JWST will reveal the births of stars and planetary systems.
Astronomers interested in answering the question, "What can JWST do for me?", are encouraged to quantify the telescopes scientific impact through the recently released JWST Exposure Time Calculators. The ETCs include support for all four science instruments and are available at jwstetc.stsci.edu/etc.
JWST PUSHES THE BOUNDARIES OF TECHNOLOGY
JWST has been a technical success despite being much more challenging than any of NASA's Great Observatories.
- Spacecraft deployment and operation at cryogenic temperatures.
- Spacecraft operations at L2, one million miles from Earth.
- Thermal control requiring a deployable tennis court-sized sunshade.
- 6.5 m deployable mirror.
The Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) recently evaluated the project upon Senator B. Mikulski's request, and confirmed the investment to date, the excellence of the technology, and recommended a viable path for NASA to correct the identified project management deficiencies. For example, the ICRP states "...the JWST project has invested wisely in advancing necessary technologies and reducing technical risk." In total, the JWST project required the development of at least 10 new technologies that have now been successfully conquered.
In June 2011, JWST achieved a major milestone. The 18 segments of the 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror, the most critical element of the observatory and the largest mirror ever built for space, have completed final polishing and demonstrate superb performance. Overall, 75% of the telescope hardware is in fabrication.
JWST REPRESENTS THE FUTURE SPACE ASTRONOMY FUNDING LINE
General Observer funding through NASA's Great Observatories currently represents 35-40% of all NASA research grant funding. This funding is essential to maintaining the health of the current paradigm of astronomical research, for observers and theorists:
- Provides 1000 new awards to US astronomers per year.
- Supports 8000 astronomers.
- Permits educating 100's of US PhD students in research & instrumentation.
- Provides avenues for postdoctoral researchers to lead high impact projects.
- Supports summer salaries of professors across US Universities.
- Fosters cross-institution collaborative research projects and new initiatives.
- Funded Research leads to >1500 scientific research papers per year.
Although it is unknown how long individual missions will be able to operate, the legacy from the Great Observatories is expected to pass to JWST.
JWST WILL INSPIRE THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS
The Hubble Space Telescope's impact on the public has been legendary and culturally transformative. Hubble has inspired school children around the world and rewritten classroom textbooks. The science results from Hubble inspire many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. JWST is the “Hubble” for the next generation of young scientists and engineers. Its research accomplishments and images will be equally profound and the discoveries will be just as unimaginable. JWST will explore the Universe beyond what Hubble could see.
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