Call to Action to Save JWST

by Kelle on September 2, 2011

Honestly, I haven’t been keeping up with the day-to-day developments about the threat to cancel to JWST. I assumed that the cancellation by the House Appropriations Subcommittee in the FY12 budget proposal was an empty threat and that the higher-ups in the US Astronomical community would take care of it. However, based on conversations with people in the know, the situation is vastly more serious than that and we, the entire US Astronomical Community, need to take action. My understanding is that the next step for the appropriations bill will be the House floor where it (and probably lots of amendments) will face a full vote. Given the vehement climate against so-called “discretionary spending” present in Washington right now, I’ve heard odds as high as 50-50 that JWST gets cancelled.

There are clearly lessons to be learned from JWST, but now is probably not the time to be debating those lessons. We’ve spent lots of money already; the instruments and mirrors are done. Regardless of your opinion on what could have been better or differently, the consequences of the cancellation are too large for us to risk it actually happening. Now is the time for us to speak with one voice in unwavering support of this mission.

Excepts from a memo by Garth Illingworth:

If we lose JWST after more than $3.5B of investment in cutting-edge technology, as well as the repeated endorsement of the National Academy over two decades, we will face serious difficulty with justifying any future major space mission to Congress and OMB in any science area (planetary exploration in particular, because of the similar high mission costs). If we are to continue the remarkably productivity and iconic visibility of NASA’s Great Observatories – Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer – we must continue with JWST. If we to have credibility with our partners, Canada and ESA, whose combined ~$1B investment and commitment is very large relative to their science budgets, we must continue with JWST. Even in such tough fiscal times it would be money well spent. US leadership is at stake.

Typical myths regarding JWST that occur in conversation and print, with responses.

  1. Termination of JWST will allow other important NASA astronomy programs to move forward.
    Wrong. The funding disappears entirely from NASA. Astronomy loses ~$400M/year, SMD loses ~$400M/year, NASA loses ~$400M/year. From Astrophysics through SMD to the whole Agency, flexibility is lost for doing the big projects that only NASA and the US (for now) can do.
  2. The NASA Astronomy portfolio should get away from flagship missions and focus on smaller missions that serve a broader segment of the community.
    Wrong. This is inconsistent with the whole history of astronomy, and particularly the last 50 years of astronomical progress, that has shown, time and time again, that major telescopes with broad capabilities are the key to progress. Such telescopes can respond quickly to new scientific opportunities and move forward the frontiers of knowledge and discovery in a timely and cost- effective way. Missions like the Hubble Space Telescope serve thousand of users and serve the research activities of the broadest possible segment of the community – through guest observer programs, archival research, graduate student and post-doctoral programs, etc. Small missions provide complementary science but are not the heart and soul of progress. Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Korean astronomers have all shown recently that they understand that the future is in major astronomical facilities. It is remarkable, and shortsighted, that some members of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable astronomy community on the planet might not grasp the opportunities offered by JWST.
  3. JWST is years away from launch with much that remains to be done, so terminating it now will save billions.
    True. But for a further $0.5B per year (less than 3% of NASA’s total budget) over the next 7 years the US will get the most powerful Observatory ever conceived and will demonstrate again our scientific and competitive leadership day after day for 10 years once JWST is launched. And having spent $3.5B already of taxpayer funds that has led to 75% of the hardware being delivered or in fabrication, this seems like a wise and prudent additional investment, even in periods of fiscal challenges. Furthermore, the money that might be “saved” by termination would not be available to other science programs, and much of the $3.5B would also be wasted since the hardware is so special to JWST that it cannot be reused.
  4. The remaining risks in JWST are substantial and not well understood. It is better to terminate the program now.
    Absolutely not true. The ICRP said that JWST had made “commendable and often excellent technical progress”. This excellent technical progress has continued in 2011 since the ICRP report. The mirror delivery, planning for testing and integration, focus on deliverables and meeting milestones are all hallmarks of a project that is on a path to success. Of course there will be future challenges and problems. This is a unique, one-off project at the cutting edge of technology. It has never been done before. Such projects push the envelope of human capabilities. They are never easy and will have challenges and problems, but with adequate guts, determination, and contingency, JWST can be done. And JWST can be done for substantially less money than has been spent on Hubble.

What You Should Do to Save JWST

First, there’s a letter to the White House science adviser, John Holdren, from the astronomical community in support of JWST that is available to sign. If you are currently working at a US institution, read the full letter and fill in your name and institution at the bottom. I believe the aim is to get this letter to Holdren sometime before Congress gets into their detailed budget deliberations, which could be as early as Friday, Sept 9th. Please sign as soon as possible. (This letter is meant for professional astronomers to sign, not the general public. Public support can be registered at Save The JWST and Change.org.)

Also, in a Informational Email, AAS President Debra Elmegreen has listed other things you should do to sustain a grass-roots effort of education and advocacy for JWST:

  • Write a letter to your member of Congress about what JWST will do
    for your local community including jobs and the impact on STEM
    education and training.
  • Write a letter to the President, with a copy to your Congressmen, in support of JWST.
  • Encourage friends, neighbors, and colleagues to write to their member of Congress to support the JWST.
  • Consider writing an Op-Ed piece for your local paper on the importance of supporting the JWST.
  • Get the word out to support the JWST:
    • get on a radio talk show or local news spot
    • talk to school groups about JWST
    • talk to community service groups such as the Kiwanis, Zonta, or
      Lion’s Club about JWST and ask them to talk to and write their members
      of Congress.
  • Continue to be active in social media, such as Facebook and Twitter (@SaveJWST, #SaveJWST).
  • Sign a petition, such as the one on change.org.

Here are a bunch of resources where you can learn more about all the details and find inspiration for the letter you should write:

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Henry3031 September 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Let’s get this straight. The money to resurrect JWST won’t come out of thin air, and it won’t come out of Afghanistan or Iraq. It’ll come out of NASA, and a lot of it won’t even come out of human space flight. It will come out of technology and other NASA science. JWST needs an *extra* $300M/yr for six or seven years. Astrophysics can’t afford that. It doesn’t have that much money. So as we beg to keep this amazing science project upright, we’re begging to pirate money from other parts of NASA.

Let’s also be very clear that Congress isn’t cancelling JWST because they don’t value the science it would do. They’re cancelling it because it is a chronic fiscal disaster.

What are you going to tell your planetary science colleagues. Is JWST worth $160M to them? If JWST is paid for with a level cut across the agency, which is what is being talked about now, that’s what they’ll pay.

When JWST is launched, and hopefully operating, why shouldn’t those other NASA disciplines look to astrophysics for a refund? Is that the situation that we want to bequeath to our young astronomers, where after JWST has been operating for its five year lifetime, we’re still paying for our mistake? JWST is eating most of the funds for other high priority astronomy missions. Is this all about saving JWST science, or about saving astrophysics? We’ve lost SIM and LISA science because of JWST, and we may well lose WFIRST science as well.

That $400M/yr will be permanently lost to astrophysics is BS. Yes, it could happen, but with good negotiating by the astronomy community, there is no reason why that has to happen. Money doesn’t get taken away from NASA disciplines when their missions fail.

I have always been a strong supporter of JWST, but what I find a bit pathetic in all this is the singlemindedness of the astronomical community that we have to have JWST at all costs, giving nary a thought to what those costs actually are.

Please take the news and links from STScI and AURA with a big grain of salt. These are entities that will benefit monetarily from JWST. Oh, by the way, Northrop-Grumman, the main JWST contractor, has a nice save-JWST web page too. No kidding!

Sure, write your congressman or the President. Write the media. What exactly are you going to say? If all you’re going to say is that JWST will do great science, and that’s why money should be stolen to pay for it, it’s an advocacy FAIL.

By the way, Rick Howard’s presentation does NOT give cost details of the replan which hasn’t been released, and most assuredly doesn’t give a specific budget that will support launch in 2018. What he says is correct, but that’s not what he says. In particular, he says the budget is “unconstrained” in FY13 forward. Read the words.

Did I say that JWST should be allowed to die? No I didn’t. But maybe we shouldn’t be so glib about preserving it.

Reply

2 GalaxyMan September 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Henry:

I certainly understand your concerns and frustrations. Let’s look at
some of the factors at play here.

It’s been a fact for decades that NASA — nor the military in general
— can afford a fixed-price contract for missions as large as Hubble,
Chandra, Webb or any of the planetary missions that NASA has done so
successfully. It would just be too expensive to pay a fixed price
contract upfront.

So instead all these missions are done via pay-as-you-go. This is
literally a decades-long process that starts with priority setting in
the National Academy’s Decadal Surveys. Once a project get chosen at
first priority by this process which involves many thousands of
scientists in the nation, you either do it properly, you descope it if
you cannot afford the whole thing, or you cancel it if it becomes
technically too hard or completely unaffordable. As JFK said about the
moon-landings: “We do these things, not because they are easy, but
because they are hard.” All major successful NASA missions did
something that was hard but not impossible, and they found a way to pay
for it — this process in many ways opened the door for other such
missions to be done subsequently in other science areas.

In the case of Webb, the situation is actually quite clear. All its
hard technological parts were done upfront, there are no technical
shows-stoppers, and more than 75% of its launch mass has been procured,
is in fab, or completely fabricated today. (What a difference with
Hubble, btw, where CCD’s had to yet be invented in the early 1980′s —
to avoid the plan of the late 1970′s of having the Shuttle return to
Hubble every month to return its photographic film to earth … ).

What hasn’t gone so smoothly is JWST’s budget and some management. As I
understand it, the JWST project at Goddard did not receive the federally
mandated 25% contingency funds from NASA HQ a number of years
in a row, forcing them essentially to be in a situation to defer work
to future years, where the postponed work then amplifies in cost. Not a
technically driven problem like Hubble had in its early days, or the
technical issues that e.g. unfortunately helped terminate the
Supercollider in the early 1990′s. For Webb, it was more like not
allowing the first bird on the runway take off fast enough, thereby
clearing the path for the next missions. NASA Astrophysics didn’t have
enough funds to do that, and it didn’t bother to ask for help from
higher up a number of years ago — which according to the independent
reviews would have been the proper solution, and have saved a ton.

Nonetheless, a nasty financial problem to grapple with, as you point
out. So how to now best deal with this? There have been a number of
independent technical and programmatic/managerial reviews this last
year of the entire JWST project. The response to these from NASA is a
reorganization of the JWST project, placing it directly under the 9th
floor in NASA HQ and thereby elevating it to an Agency-wide priority,
as described in Rick Howard’s presentation. Also, a number of
independent cost studies were done this spring to determine what it
will take to now get JWST to the launchpad in 2018, and you have seen the
outcome of that. They all seem to agree on the numbers what that will
cost: roughly 4 B$ spent thus far, and roughly 4B$ to go to launch,
with 0.7 B$ for 5 or more years of operations (Webb actually has
propellant onboard for 11-12 years). How does this rhyme with 75% of
Webb being fabricated at the moment? Well, the other 25% of H/W is still
budgeted for, and the remainder roughly one third is for several years of
integration and testing, which they better do right, since Webb cannot
be serviced in L2 (and according to its design with many redundant
mechanism, doesn’t need to be serviced to perform at least 5 years).

In this process this summer, NASA HQ also has proposed a budget plan
that implements all this. As I understand it, this plan for FY11/FY12
will be released soon by OMB, but for FY13 it is embargoed until the
2012 State of the Union (as is common practice for the entire next FY’s
federal budget every year). The plan that NASA proposed spreads the
cost across the board, with some larger cut for NASA Space Science and
Astrophysics. First off, the JWST budget is just over 2% of the entire
NASA budget, and with the increase it it gets just over 3%. So HQ
proposed I think a less than 1% cut across the board, and a slightly
larger cut in NASA Space science, and around 2% in Astrophysics. No
missions are getting canceled because of JWST (the other missions you
mentioned had significant technical issues of their own that one cannot
blame on Webb). No-one including me likes to get our budget cuts, but
in the large scheme of things such cuts can be survived. In the past,
the NASA Astrophysics budget, when it was larger than some of the
others like Heliophysics or Planetary, Astrophysics has been leaned on
to help save a planetary mission. I personally love what these Mars
rovers have done for science and the public, and as an astrophysicist,
I think any such past sacrifices were well worth it. I can only hope
that our colleagues in Planetary and elsewhere feel the same way now.
The worst thing we can do now to our community is to divide it. But
this is precisely what some out there want to accomplish.

What are the alternatives? Canceling JWST would be an unmitigated
disaster for not only NASA Space Science, but for the whole agency, and
indeed for all of US science and the whole nation. When the
Supercollider was canceled in 1993, that funds (>2B) first of all never
came back to DOE, and furthermore, the US has been playing second
violin to the European LHC, and will unfortunately take second seat
in the area of high-energy physics for decades to come. It basically
destroyed the future of an entire generation of high energy physicists,
and put our nation behind in this area for decades. Canceled project
funds never returns to you to spend in some other fashion. This was
also true for the funds set aside for Hubble Shuttle servicing — as
soon as the last Shuttle servicing mission to Hubble was successfully
accomplished in May 2009, about 150 M$ was removed permanently out of
the NASA Astrophysics budget. And what do you think a canceled Webb
will mean for the next NASA flagship mission to one of Jupiter’s Moons or
to Mars to be started mid-decade? — you better think twice that
Congress will let you do any of that after a Webb cancellation —
it certainly has never approved anything as big as the Supercollider
for DOE after the SSC cancellation in 1993.

Do we similarly want to cancel Webb after we have gotten this close?
Give up an entire generation of young astrophysicists and space
scientists to foreign competition? I personally do not think so. I
think we must persist, not because it is easy, but because it is hard,
and continue to insist that the government is open with us about JWST’s
true mission cost and risks, and continue with its sensible plan to
finish JWST while keeping the rest of Space Science and Astrophysics
going without cancellations. You don’t punish technical success with
cancellation. The hardest part of Webb has been done — 18 gold-coated
beryllium mirrors, 17 of which are significantly better than spec —
and that only in one iteration of cryo-polishing each. That’s an
unheard of success, and I think it prompts us to the challenge to
better properly finish the whole mission. Why declare defeat in WW-II
if you just successfully completed the hardest part of D-day? That’s
not the US way of doing business. It’s not just NASA or Space Science
at stake here, it’s how we are perceived by the rest of the world for
decades.

Thank you for your straightforwardly bringing up all these issues.
Hope this helps clarify a few things.

Reply

3 Aaron September 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Henry3031, it is true that previous NASA management did not fund JWST appropriately. The ICRP report clearly demonstrates that the program pushed forward with a lack of reserves, and this deferred important work to later years, causing the overrun. A lot of people share the blame for this, and that should not be excused.

However, the total amount of money needed to launch JWST is less than 3% of NASA’s budget, assuming the NASA budget does not grow at all for the next 7 years. The astrophysics program agenda over the next few years includes other new missions such as Sophia, Astro-H, GEMS, NuStar, etc. that can go forward without any impact, while still sustaining Hubble, Chandra, and other current projects.

The notion that JWST is responsible for the cancellation of other future programs is completely false, and anyone that says this has no idea what they are talking about. The NASA astrophysics budget was much higher in the past, when some of these programs were planned. That budget, and that of SMD, has decreased dramatically over the past 5 years so some missions are no longer possible, irrespective of JWST. This is why NASA has cancelled them.

I am surprised to see you mentioned LISA and SIM in your message as programs that were cancelled because of JWST. Have you read the Astro 2010 Decadal Survey? LISA (and IXO) were not even ranked in the top two programs for space based astronomy. Historically, only the top ranked large program (at most top two) succeed. As for SIM, the decadal survey committee did not even rank it saying it was “uncompetitive”. The cancellation of these missions has to do with how compelling the science is vs other exciting programs. This all happened before the JWST over run was announced and before the ICRP report came out.

The comment regarding the $400M for JWST not being lost to astrophysics is a pipe dream. That money is as good as gone if JWST is cancelled. There are countless examples of this happening in the past (e.g., SSC, Hubble SM4). “but with good negotiating by the astronomical community”…are you serious? You clearly don’t know how the system works.

Regarding planetary sciences, you may not be paying attention but a major component of the JWST science case is to understanding the origins of the Solar System, both by studying analogous systems in the nearby Galaxy with unprecedented power, and by directly observing outer Solar System objects. There are entire white papers written on these topics. The planetary community (other than a few vocal people) appreciates very much the discoveries made by Hubble in the Solar System, and understands that this type of science will continue with JWST. It might help if you took a more broad perspective. There are amazing synergies between astrophysics and planetary sciences to solve key questions, and there are unique abilities that JWST brings to the table to solve these.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the $8.7B JWST price tag is midway between Chandra and Hubble. Inflating Hubble to current dollars gives almost $13B, and Chandra is about $5B. I agree that WFIRST is cheaper, but it is also not a flagship mission and will not provide the same general observatory science that JWST will. The earliest date that the Decadal Survey established for WFIRST would launch it very late this decade. This is for a 1.3 meter telescope…we launched a 2.4 meter 30 years before that! Plus, even with that date that the Decadal set, it would follow EUCLID in Europe and therefore (at most) confirm a result on dark energy that we already knew.

JWST pushes boundaries, achieves amazing technologies, and has a science case that can not be touched by any other mission being planned in the world. It is much more powerful than Hubble, for example. The project has already seen amazing successes …the mirrors are basically finished and the instruments will be delivered within a year. Based on the ICRP guidelines, a significant part of the additional money that you are speaking about includes operations for the lifetime of the mission and also (for the first time) contingency to ensure a 2018 launch. Ensuring its success is the best way to preserve a healthy future for astronomy, and science in general.

If you remain unconvinced, I urge you to check out some of the many op-eds, letters, and supportive notes written by people who have nothing to do with the project.

Reply

4 AOAstronomer September 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Henry3031 wrote:
“That $400M/yr will be permanently lost to astrophysics is BS. Yes, it could happen, but with good negotiating by the astronomy community, there is no reason why that has to happen. ”

I’m sorry, but it seems flat-out wrong to call it BS, when *that is precisely what the language of the House Appropriations Bill says it would do*. This is not a matter subject to much uncertainty, it’s clearly stated in the text of the law that Congress is debating!

If you think that a cancelled JWST would return any of its funding to astronomy, all I have to say is go look at particle physics after the SSC got cancelled. Did they get a bonanza of reallocated funding for new accelerators and other exciting projects, or did the field dry up in the States and all the leadership pass to Europe?

“Astrophysics can’t afford that. It doesn’t have that much money. So as we beg to keep this amazing science project upright, we’re begging to pirate money from other parts of NASA.”

Why is it “piracy”? Hubble is NASA’s flagship as much as the space station. In this post-Shuttle era, Hubble is probably NASA’s single greatest, best and most beloved brand name. Spending money on JWST is an investment in maintaining that scientific leadership and public perception of greatness into the future. Everybody forgets these days that Hubble was painfully over budget and behind schedule, and NASA came perilously close to just giving up on it entirely after the spherical aberration was discovered and canceling the whole program instead of throwing more money into servicing – yet would anyone argue today that it wasn’t worth every penny?

“We’ve lost SIM and LISA science because of JWST, and we may well lose WFIRST science as well.”

My turn to call BS. SIM was discarded by the Decadal Survey Committee well before any of the JWST overruns came to light. That was our decision as a community, not something foisted on us, due in large part to the community’s perception that SIM’s science hadn’t stayed competitive as the field has evolved.

Reply

5 Ann Onymous September 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

How aggressive Henry. Please read your message again, replace JWST by Hubble and think we are in the 1980s. See how well it applies. I fear you are having illusions that money will stay in astrophysics. The US particle community got decimated when the Superconducting Super Collider got canceled back then. As for WFIRST, well, ESA already has a similar instrument in the planning (Euclid) which will end up being launched a few years before WFIRST. Oh, and the astrophysics division already gave funding to other NASA branches in the recent past, that would only be a return.
Finally Canada and Europe also invested a lot of money into it. I wonder what are the terms of the contract and how much money would NASA have to give as penalties for not honoring their side of the contract.

Reply

6 Kelle September 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Apologies for the delay in comment moderation due to the holiday weekend.

7 anonymous September 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

PLANETARY EXPLORATION NEWSLETTER – SPECIAL EDITION
Volume 5, Number 40 (September 8, 2011)

PEN Website: http://planetarynews.org
Editor: Susan Benecchi
Co-Editors: Melissa Lane, Mark Sykes
Email: pen_editor at psi.edu

o—————————SPECIAL EDITION—————————o

EDITORIAL: JWST THREATENS PLANETARY SCIENCE

The recently released NRC Planetary Decadal Survey (“Visions and
Voyages”), with input from the planetary community, detailed specific
priorities for the next decade of solar system exploration. This
carefully laid out plan is under threat from cost overruns by the
NASA James Webb Space Telescope. The NRC Planetary Decadal Survey did
not cite JWST as a priority for planetary science.

JWST has, however, been a priority in the NRC Astrophysics Decadal
Surveys. When JWST was ranked as the top major initiative for NASA
astrophysics in the 2001 NRC Astronomy Decadal Survey, it was estimated
to cost $1B and launch by 2011. NASA has now spent $3.5B on JWST and it
is now projected to cost a minimum of $8.7B for a launch no earlier
than late 2018. As a result, JWST’s cost increases have outstripped the
resources of the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s Astrophysics
Division, and NASA leadership has now declared JWST an “agency
priority.” Resources of other NASA programs, including the Agency’s
Planetary Sciences Division within the Science Mission Directorate,
are now threatened to cover current and future JWST cost overruns.

Citing these overruns, the House zeroed out JWST from NASA’s 2012
budget.

We believe it is time to have an open debate on JWST and its value
across all targeted communities, from planetary, Earth science, and
heliophysics to human spaceflight. Congress needs to be informed about
the impact of the choices facing it.

We individually and together reject the premise that JWST must be
restored at all costs. We further stand by the following positions:

(1) There are important national priorities in space beyond the goals
of JWST that as a country we cannot afford to sacrifice.
(2) If Congress believes JWST is so important that it must be restored,
then Congress should commit to adding funds to the NASA budget
sufficient to cover JWST’s expenses from here forward, recognizing
that it may well cost more than $8.7B.
(3) Without additional funds to NASA, JWST should not be restored
unless and until an open science community assessment is made of
the value of what will be gained and what will be lost across the
entire NASA science portfolio.
(4) If Congress cancels JWST, it is important to preserve the NASA
astrophysics budget and mandate the formulation of a plan to retain
US astrophysics leadership.

Signed,

Mark V. Sykes
CEO, Planetary Science Institute
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society

Michael F. A’Hearn
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society
Principal Investigator, NASA Deep Impact Mission
Principal Investigator, NASA EPOXI Mission

Raymond E. Arvidson
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor,
Washington University
Former Chair, Planetary Geology Division
of the Geological Society of America
Former President, Planetary Section of the American Geophysical Union

Jayne C. Aubele
Museum Adult Programs Educator/Geologist,
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Former Chair, Planetary Geology Division
of the Geological Society of America

Reta Beebe
College Professor, New Mexico State University
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society

Larry S. Crumpler
Research Curator, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Former Chair, Planetary Geology Division
of the Geological Society of America

Bruce Hapke
Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society

Stephen Mackwell
Director, Lunar and Planetary Institute

Thomas B. McCord
Director, Bear Fight Institute
Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society
Former President, Planetary Section of the American Geophysical Union

Harry Y. (Hap) McSween
Chancellor’s Professor, University of Tennessee
Former Chair, Planetary Geology Division
of the Geological Society of America
Former President, Meteoritical Society

Tom Pierson
CEO, SETI Institute

S. Alan Stern
Former Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Former Vice-Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society

Faith Vilas
Project Scientist, Atsa Suborbital Observatory
Former Director, MMT Observatory
Former Chair, Division for Planetary Sciences
of the American Astronomical Society

David A. Williams
Faculty Research Associate, Arizona State University
Chair, Planetary Geology Division
of the Geological Society of America

Reply

8 Gilligan September 9, 2011 at 7:25 am

The above letter is somewhat disingenuous. First, Alan Stern of all people should know that citing the $1 billion/2011 datum for JWST is thoroughly misleading. There’s an excellent article by Ron Cowen that goes through JWST’s funding history (“Star Cents”, in Science News). One of the points made there (and emphasized in the Casani report) is the fact that JWST was never afforded the appropriate contingency funding for a project of its complexity. You put in contingency funding to allow for unforeseen complications, which are inevitable in a large project; if the funding isn’t there, you have to postpone that work, and that often results in a slip in the full schedule, and usually ends up costing the project three times more than it should. Guess who was at NASA HQ while some of this mismanagement was going on. Oh, and by the way, JWST also figures prominently in the Astro2010 decadal – in fact, you can’t really do Cosmic Dawn if it’s not there [as a prominent astrophysicist recently said "if JWST didn't exist, we'd have to invent it."]. So point 4 in the letter is more than a little disingenuous.

Second, as to the impact on other directorates within SMD, Nature recently outlined the current NASA plan. The required funding works out at around $15-20 million/year from each. That’s not so painful. As an alternative, consider what happens if JWST goes: SMD funding is cut to $4.5 billion (the funds basically go to deficit reduction); astrophysics has $638 million, which is not enough for a medium-sized mission. What do you think the chances are of new funding coming into science? Past history suggests that’s not really a likely option. What do you think the chances are that NASA decides that any future medium/major astrophysics mission comes out the current SMD funding? That’s going to be a much bigger long-term impact for planetary science. You might think that scientists of this seniority could think more than one step ahead for their community.

Reply

9 Aaron September 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

The opinions listed in the letter above are not those of the general planetary sciences community. This PEN newsletter is Mark Sykes personal letter and not reflective of the Division of Planetary Sciences. In addition to Gilligan’s comment about A. Stern being partially responsible for the JWST cost over run (during his time at NASA), there are other co-signers of this letter that are conflicted. These are scientists who themselves are leading planetary scientist missions that are, in some cases, over budget.

The majority of planetary scientists are excited about the science that JWST will bring forward on the Solar System. Like Hubble before it, JWST will discover new bodies in our Solar System and study the outer planets in exquisite detail. You can look to the Division of Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey itself to read this. The Decadal reflects the opinions of the general body. For example, the Decadal Survey says:

“The James Webb Space Telescope will also make significant contributions to planetary science.”

“JWST will contribute to planetary science in numerous ways, including diffraction-limited imaging (in the near infrared) of both large and small bodies difficult to match with existing ground-based facilities, spectroscopy of the deep atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune, planetary auroral studies with high spatial resolution, and observations of transient phenomena (storms and impact-generated events) in the atmospheres of the giant planets.”

“JWST will overlap with several planetary missions, offering unique complementary and supplementary observations, and can extend studies of Titan beyond the 2017 end of the Cassini mission. The ability to track moving targets‹a necessity for planetary observations is currently being implemented.”

“JWST’s Science Working Group is planning many types of solar system observations, including imaging and spectra of Kuiper Belt objects and comets, as well as Uranus and Neptune and their satellites and ring systems.”

“There are three main areas in which collaboration with other parts of NASA could benefit the solar system exploration program…. the Hubble Space Telescope has a long history of successful planetary observations, and this collaboration can be a model for future telescopes such as the
James Webb Space Telescope.”

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10 Gilligan September 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm

The “emeritus” letter suggests that resources are threatened within the Planetary Sciences division of the Science Mission Directorate by JWST. Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to see what that actually means. To do that, we can use the numbers and funding model outlined in the recent Nature article – total cost of $8.7 billion, launch in late 2018, and additional costs shared equally between SMD and non-SMD lines within NASA. These aren’t official numbers, but they’re all we have to go on at present.
$8.7 billion covers the cost through launch, plus 5 years of operations and 2 years of archival operations. ~0.8 billion is budgeted for the operations phase, so the total cost to launch is estimated as around $8 billion.
JWST has already spent $3.5 billion, so it requires $4.5 billion spread of 7 years (FY12 to FY18) for a launch in 2018.
JWST is budgeted at $375 million/year in the president’s budget, for a total of $2.6 billion, leaving a shortfall of $1.9 billion, or ~$270 million/year.
If half the costs are covered outside SMD, then the 4 other divisons within SMD need to come up with $135 million per year.
The total budget of the remaining 4 lines (Astro, helio, earth sciences and planetary) is $4.5 billion/year, so that’s a diversion of 3% of their annual budget to JWST. That’s not even decimating (in the true classical sense) the budget. Three percent.
Assuming that scales equally for each division, that’s ~$20 million/year for astro, $18 million/year for helio, $45 million/year for planetary and $50 million/year for earth sciences.
Put that in context – the funding from Planetary to support JWST is comparable with the difference between the initial and final cost estimates for New Horizons. How many planetary missions did that kill?

Just a model, but well worth considering against the dire consequences forecast by the emeritii.

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11 Henry3031 September 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Sorry to take so long getting back here. Let’s take these points one at a time.

“Do we similarly want to cancel Webb after we have gotten this close?”

By my math, we’ve spent $3.5B of the $8B required to launch JWST. That’s 40% of the way there. (It’s actually farther than it used to be, so formally it’s moving backwards!) The fact that 75% of the hardware is procured is irrelevant, because most of the effort is in I&T. Yes, we’ve come a long way”, but no, we’re not almost there.

“In the past, the NASA Astrophysics budget, when it was larger than some of the others like Heliophysics or Planetary, Astrophysics has been leaned on to help save a planetary mission.”

Certainly not recently. MSL overruns were taken out of the Mars account in PSD, and eventually out of the entire PSD account. Never out of astrophysics. Which planetary mission leaned on the Astrophysics division?

“The comment regarding the $400M for JWST not being lost to astrophysics is a pipe dream. That money is as good as gone if JWST is cancelled. There are countless examples of this happening in the past (e.g., SSC, Hubble SM4). “but with good negotiating by the astronomical community”…are you serious? You clearly don’t know how the system works.”

Someone clearly doesn’t know how it works. The most recent example of a large NASA endeavor getting cancelled because of budget mismanagement was Constellation. Plug pulled, sunk costs, etc. BIG money. Did human space flight at NASA lose that money? Nope. The SSC comparison is a poor one. Before SSC, the DOE Office of Science never had that kind of money, so in the long run, nothing was “lost”, except the SSC project itself. Goodness, this would mean that when we pull out of Iraq, all that money will just disappear from the DOD! Maybe it’ll land in SMD, ya think?

“Why is it “piracy”? Hubble is NASA’s flagship as much as the space station. In this post-Shuttle era, Hubble is probably NASA’s single greatest, best and most beloved brand name. Spending money on JWST is an investment in maintaining that scientific leadership and public perception of greatness into the future. Everybody forgets these days that Hubble was painfully over budget and behind schedule, and NASA came perilously close to just giving up on it entirely after the spherical aberration was discovered and canceling the whole program instead of throwing more money into servicing – yet would anyone argue today that it wasn’t worth every penny?”

I think there is some confusion of HST with JWST here. JWST is no ones flagship. It’s seven years off. It was worth every penny to astronomy to repair HST, but all those pennies came out of the Astrophysics account. Well, except for those pennies that came from the Shuttle mission, and that came from SOMD as grandfathered in by the original agreement on HST. Yes, it’s piracy, if Congress has given other disciplines the assurance that they will have a certain amount of money to spend, and Astrophysics comes in and takes some of it.

“I’m sorry, but it seems flat-out wrong to call it BS, when *that is precisely what the language of the House Appropriations Bill says it would do*. This is not a matter subject to much uncertainty, it’s clearly stated in the text of the law that Congress is debating!”

This is with regard to whether the obligated out-year funds for JWST would disappear from the SMD account. Was there supposed to be a footnote on this? Not sure what the asterisk is for. In the bill itself, JWST isn’t mentioned at all. Here’s what my copy of the House CJS Report language says about JWST.

———
James Webb Space Telescope.—The James Webb Space Telescope
(JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel revealed chronic
and deeply rooted management problems in the JWST project.
These issues led to the project cost being underestimated by as
much as $1,400,000,000 relative to the most recent baseline, and
the budget could continue to rise depending on the final launch
date determination. Although JWST is a particularly serious example,
significant cost overruns are commonplace at NASA, and the
Committee believes that the underlying causes will never be fully
addressed if the Congress does not establish clear consequences for
failing to meet budget and schedule expectations. The Committee
recommendation provides no funding for JWST in fiscal year 2012.
The Committee believes that this step will ultimately benefit
NASA by setting a cost discipline example for other projects and
by relieving the enormous pressure that JWST was placing on
NASA’s ability to pursue other science missions.
——

So, no, it’s not clearly stated in the law being debated. Citation, please? Yes, it is possible that the FY12 money for JWST will evaporate entirely, but I’m talking about the runout obligations, which is most of the cost of the mission. Congress is saying nothing about whether they would deny the Astrophysics Division $350M in each of the next six years to do other missions. This is an extraordinarily important point you’re raising, so evidence for what you say would be valuable, if it exists.

“The majority of planetary scientists are excited about the science that JWST will bring forward on the Solar System.”

Source? This statement is followed by a list of significant planetary science that JSWT will do. No one is arguing about that list. The question is whether that list is worth several hundred million dollars to the planetary science community. I don’t think that can be credibly argued. JWST never appears in the Planetary Science decadal report. Good science isn’t the same as priority science.

“SIM was discarded by the Decadal Survey Committee well before any of the JWST overruns came to light. That was our decision as a community, not something foisted on us, due in large part to the community’s perception that SIM’s science hadn’t stayed competitive as the field has evolved.”

The offloading of SIM and LISA by several posters here is curious. Yes, these missions were not highly ranked in the Decadal Survey BECAUSE the Decadal Survey committee was given a small budget wedge to do new missions, even before the true budget impact of JWST came to light. That budget wedge was small because $350M/yr was being obligated to JWST. There was no decision that the science from these other missions wasn’t good, but just that the science wasn’t affordable.

“How aggressive Henry. Please read your message again, replace JWST by Hubble and think we are in the 1980s. See how well it applies. ”

Thanks. I did. It does. I also tried “Constellation” and, you know, it applies as well. I’m glad that Mike Griffin didn’t actually succeed in taking “one thin dime” from astronomy in order to fund the Constellation. The word “aggressive” is a curious accusation here. I’m making a point, and I’m making it credibly and strongly. Get over it.

Thanks to everyone for their spirited (no, it’s not “aggressive”) discussion on this matter. May there be a lot more discussion, and may the astronomy community own up to even a small fraction of what’s being argued about here.

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12 Gilligan September 12, 2011 at 12:17 am

Hi Henry,
you don’t seem to have a good understanding of how things work. NASA funds missions, not science; the house budget removes money from a mission; they’re not going to hand it back to astrophysics on the off-chance that they might use it for some mission that’s not a high priority in the decadal survey. For Constellation, the money didn’t go away because the government was under a continuing resolution, and you can’t defund programs under those circumstances. Get your facts right before pontificating. The JWST funds are gone from astrophysics in the House budget. No JWST, no development funds for future astrophysics missions, no chance for anything like WFIRST or LISA. All gone – unless astrophysics gets funds from the other SMD directorates at a much higher level than currently proposed to support JWST. But maybe you’re just focused on killing NASA’s contributions to science across the board?
As to SIM, it was specifically rejected by the Decadal (in a footnote); LISA was listed as important, but can’t be funded unless an ESA test mission is successful.
And for the hundreds of millions from planetary, check the arithmetic – it’s a few tens of millions in a given year. 3 percent of their total budget. At least learn to do arithmetic, something that seems to be beyond the capabilities of the old fogies on the emeritus letter. Try working with numbers, rather than rhetoric.
Fact is, killing JWST further diminishes NASA science. Maybe that;s what you want – maybe you ant the money funneled into commercial space. If so, why not admit it, instead of peddling this flim-flam.

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13 AOAstronomer September 12, 2011 at 9:29 am

Henry3031 wrote:
“So, no, it’s not clearly stated in the law being debated. Citation, please? Yes, it is possible that the FY12 money for JWST will evaporate entirely, but I’m talking about the runout obligations, which is most of the cost of the mission. Congress is saying nothing about whether they would deny the Astrophysics Division $350M in each of the next six years to do other missions. This is an extraordinarily important point you’re raising, so evidence for what you say would be valuable, if it exists.”

The most significant evidence is the fact that the House CJS committee, in their proposed FY2012 appropriations (http://appropriations.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=250023), does entirely remove the $431M for JWST from NASA, as part of a larger $1.6B overall cut (~9%) to the NASA budget. You’re correct that they do not state in so many words “we will not give back this money to NASA next year in FY13″, but it seems entirely implausible that a massive cut to NASA’s budget in one year would be reversed in the next. Remember, JWST is not the only NASA program being targeted for termination at this time; in fact, it’s only about 25% of the proposed budget cuts at NASA.

Those cuts are driven by the (misguided, in my mind) current focus on deficit reduction. Let’s be clear about this: The root cause for Rep. Wolf and others suggesting to cancel JWST is not out of any concern for scientific progress or teaching aerospace contractors a lesson about budgeting. Fundamentally, they want to substantially reduce the US government’s expenditures across the board. (See: $460M cut to the Commerce department, $1B cut to Justice for FY12 from the same committee). JWST was picked as a target for those cuts because it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and one with known budget issues. So while I suppose it is technically possible that the JWST run-out could be returned to NASA for FY13-18 and spent on other missions, in this current Tea Party driven climate of austerity, I think by far the most reasonable assumption is that a major budget cut to NASA in FY12 would not be undone by a budget increase the next year.

“The offloading of SIM and LISA by several posters here is curious. Yes, these missions were not highly ranked in the Decadal Survey BECAUSE the Decadal Survey committee was given a small budget wedge to do new missions, even before the true budget impact of JWST came to light. ”

That doesn’t make sense. The size of the budget wedge has nothing to do with the rank ordering that gets assigned to missions. Even given that same fixed budget wedge, the Decadal could have decided that SIM was, say, more important than LISA or IXO but second in priority to WFIRST. But they didn’t. That mission was not highly ranked because of its assessed scientific payoff. The ordering is an orthogonal concern from how many missions atop the ranked list actually get done.

And it was quite clear going into the Decadal that we needed to rein in our ambitions. The lesson of the past few decades is that at most one or two large space based projects can be accomplished per decade; anything more is implausible. Look at the 1990 Bahcall report (http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1634&page=17#p20004727ttt00002 ): one major recommendation, SIRTF, which was achieved. SIM (then AIM) was listed as a mid-class mission for $250M, alongside SOFIA for $230M (so, as an aside, note that the SIM and SOFIA cost overruns have been tremendous too!). But then the 2000 report (http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9839&page=33#p2000a4319960033001) recommended NGST, Con-X, TPF, SAFIR, LISA, SDO, EXIST, and ARISE, for a total decadal cost of $3.5B. I know, it looks ridiculous in retrospect, even accounting for inflation and the over-optimism of the dot-com boom era… Had the 2010 Decadal assumed a large enough budget wedge and made everyone happy by ranking every mission highly, they would have utterly failed in their duty to match our plans to the realities of what we can achieve in ten years.

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14 Ben September 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm

SIM wasn’t even ranked in the decadal survey. It was relegated to a footnote. SIM was not scientifically and technically compelling any longer. All the money in the world would not have gotten SIM into the Decadal recommendations.

Anyone who thinks that canceling JWST is going to bring back money that will get their IXO or LISA funded (or even WFIRST) is whistling past the graveyard.

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15 Henry3031 September 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

“NASA funds missions, not science; the house budget removes money from a mission; they’re not going to hand it back to astrophysics on the off-chance that they might use it for some mission that’s not a high priority in the decadal survey. For Constellation, the money didn’t go away because the government was under a continuing resolution, and you can’t defund programs under those circumstances. ”

No, no, no, no. Constellation is dead. It didn’t go away in that first CR year, thanks to the Shelby provision, but it’s gone now. That money is being directed towards (whether you’re the Administration or Congress), human spaceflight-oriented space technology, commercial, and or SLS. Orion/MPCV and ISS as well, but they’re things that everyone seems to agree on. The numbers still add up the same for human space flight. As I said, someone doesn’t know how things work.

“All gone – unless astrophysics gets funds from the other SMD directorates at a much higher level than currently proposed to support JWST. But maybe you’re just focused on killing NASA’s contributions to science across the board?”

That’s an unnecessary accusation, and a pretty glib one. What we’re talking about is other divisions being made to reward the Astrophysics division for a budgetary train wreck. Several budgetary train wrecks, in fact. What we’re talking about is the budgetary firewall coming down between human space flight and science. The one that was set up when Mike Griffin tried to take his “thin dime” from science. You save JWST, but you might lose the farm in the long run. Maybe you’re just focused on seeing JWST science as representing “science across the board”? It isn’t.

“You’re correct that they do not state in so many words “we will not give back this money to NASA next year in FY13″, but it seems entirely implausible that a massive cut to NASA’s budget in one year would be reversed in the next.”

Could be, especially if the astronomy community doesn’t get organized with a compelling way to spend it. As I said, that funding loss didn’t happen for human space flight with the cancellation of Constellation. They came up with other sellable ideas.

“And for the hundreds of millions from planetary, check the arithmetic – it’s a few tens of millions in a given year. 3 percent of their total budget. At least learn to do arithmetic, something that seems to be beyond the capabilities of the old fogies on the emeritus letter. Try working with numbers, rather than rhetoric.”

The 2% solution, proposed as an agency-wide level cut to fund JWST, was to find ~$400M/yr. The Planetary division budget is $1.5B/yr. 2% of that is $30M/yr. Multiply that by seven years until launch and, whoa, $210M. Try working with numbers, rather than rhetoric. BTW, the “2% solution” is not getting a good reception at OMB/OSTP. You’re right, that 3% might be more likely (or even more!), which would get you to $315M+. No chump change here. But what, you’re saying that pirating smaller amounts of money is forgivable? There’s an inspiration to our youth, though not really a STEM one.

“Anyone who thinks that canceling JWST is going to bring back money that will get their IXO or LISA funded (or even WFIRST) is whistling past the graveyard.”

We’re using the right words here, at least. JWST is being called astrophysics-committing-suicide. So as we’re walking past the graveyard, whistling might be a good thing to do. Let me say that my references to SIM and LISA were just convenient placeholders. I wasn’t suggesting that those particular missions should be pulled out of the ground to throw JWST funds at. I’m just saying that there is other deserving science (WFIRST, for example). You know, since we’re talking about budgetary firewalls coming down, maybe JWST funds should be plowed into MAX-C. There’s some deserving science, if astrophysics can’t come up with any more! Or maybe a couple of Earth sicnec emissions. Of course, to the extent that NASA doesn’t know how to budgetarily manage very large projects, there is no reason that that MAX-C won’t go off the rails as well.

The reference to the latest Astronomy Decadal report is certainly instructive. Although that Decadal process preceded the Casani committee work, there was plenty of grumbling about costs on JWST even then, and keeping JWST out of the charter of that Decadal Survey was just dumb. The hand wringing we’re doing right now, some of it right here, should have been done by that Decadal. They should have had the opportunity to, as the Planetary Decadal later did for their priorities, put a budgetary line-in-the-sand on JWST. But they weren’t allowed to do that. That Decadal could also have come up with a brief bail-out plan, which might have suggested science options in case JWST crossed that line.

Let me be clear. I don’t want JWST to fail. The science value is huge. But we have to come up with advocacy for it that goes beyond “huge science”. The “huge science” part is the easy part. Rep. Wolf et al. know that. The advocacy has to explain why JWST is better than the science in other disciplines we’d be harming to do it, and why it is in the long-term interest of astronomy to see these valuable firewalls to come down. It has to explain why we’re not headed for yet another train wreck, that will turn this into a $10B+ mission. Well, if the astronomy community can’t come up with this advocacy, Senator Mikulski will just do it by fiat in an unfunded mandate.

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16 AOAstronomer September 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

Henry3031 wrote:
“No, no, no, no. Constellation is dead. It didn’t go away in that first CR year, thanks to the Shelby provision, but it’s gone now. That money is being directed towards (whether you’re the Administration or Congress), human spaceflight-oriented space technology, commercial, and or SLS. Orion/MPCV and ISS as well, but they’re things that everyone seems to agree on. The numbers still add up the same for human space flight. As I said, someone doesn’t know how things work.”

Look, these ad-hominems about people not knowing how things work are doing no one any good, and not helping this discussion. On the one hand, Constellation offers an example of a program being cancelled by Congress and the money staying in NASA and being redirected to very similar purposes. On the other hand, the SSC offers an example of a program being cancelled by Congress, the money vanishing from the DOE entirely, and the US ceding the lead in particle physics to Europe for decades. Which of these cases would a JWST cancellation more resemble? There’s simply no way anyone can know for sure today, and name calling about what people do or do not know is not useful. On either side.

“It has to explain why we’re not headed for yet another train wreck, that will turn this into a $10B+ mission.”

Well, possibly because the latest numbers, the $8B-to-launch numbers, contain an entire year of funded contingency. We’re finally in a place where people are talking more realistically about the sorts of contingencies – in time and funding – that are needed to do missions of this scale. A lack of adequate contingencies has long been one of the root causes in why JWST’s budget numbers keep growing, because there’s no other way to deal with unexpected challenges and any tradeoffs done at the project level resulted in postponing work into the future, which just raises the ultimate costs even further.

I’m not saying that factor alone will prevent further growth. But whether or not JWST flies, one of the lessons this community _has_ to learn is that optimistic budgets lacking substantial contingency funds are simply inadequate to achieve missions at this level.

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17 Henry3031 September 13, 2011 at 11:54 am

Thank you, AOAstronomer. This is a good, sincere, discussion, bringing up things that the average “JWST at all costs!!!” astronomer or astro-fan is clueless about. The sincerity seems to have scared some people, though. It’s a discussion that deserves to be had. It’s an opportunity for the astronomy community to look carefully at itself and decide what’s important. As it turns out, there are many things that are important. To the extent that the astronomy community wants to successfully preserve JWST, these are issues that it has to confront. With JWST, the astronomy community is now in somewhat of a no-mans land, and there are no lessons that cleanly apply.

“Look, these ad-hominems about people not knowing how things work are doing no one any good, and not helping this discussion.”

I agree completely. I was just somewhat snidely echoing what others had said, except I was careful not to aim the ad-hominem at anyone in particular, unlike how they did it. There are things I don’t know, and I’m sure there are things that they don’t know. Hurling accusations about what people don’t know isn’t constructive conversation, and in many respects is damaging.

I agree about “substantial contingency funds”, though JWST has eaten through several sets of contingency funds that evidently weren’t substantial enough. So part of the lesson is that, for at least this large mission, our community doesn’t clearly understand how to set substantial contingency. It should be a matter of some concern to the community how, in the new replan, substantial contingency was finally, we are told to assume, figured out. Again, this is an issue that needs to be confronted. Kicking the project up to the 9th floor at HQ doesn’t give me that assurance, frankly. Why should it?

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18 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Hi Henry,
First, the walls between divisions aren’t impermeable. This isn’t the first time that money has been moved, albeit at a lower level. Mars Science Lab may well have been a beneficiary of modest astro funds in the past. And that’s as it should be for major priorities within themes.
second, I’m glad that we agree about the level of cost. Yes, $210 million over 7 years is painful, but it’s not the devastating impact that some rhetoricians would have you believe. It’s still 2% of a $10.5 billion budget over 7 years – it’s a SMEX, not the Europa mission. Is the science worth it? Well, the astro decadal survey certainly thought so, since JWST is central to the Cosmic Dawn theme. The priorities enunciated by that survey are predicated on JWST flying, so one can’t simply pivot to the next theme. So, not the science at all costs.
Finally, contingency funding – yes, the community has been really bad at policing that. But that’s all they can do – act as police through oversight committees. The NASA management team, from HQ down, sets the funding levels, and it’s clear from the Casani report that there was a major failure in the budgeting (see http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/71607/title/Star_Cents for more discussion. Note particularly Griffin’s comments.)

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19 Henry3031 September 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Sure, there’s always a very small amount of fund shifting within SMD. But there’s usually a tit-for-tat. Another point to make is that the Planetary Science Division actually already has money put into JWST, I believe to work out moving source tracking. I’m not aware of Astrophysics money being used for MSL, though. There was a big fuss about fund shifting for that, but the fuss was contained within the Planetary Science Division. Non-Mars planetary scientists felt burned when MSL reached out of the Mars science line, but it stayed within PSD.

Re small costs, it’s a tricky game that one plays here. Once the precedent is set, what small cost borrowing is too much? 1%, 5%? 20%? Hey, if the mission has awesome value, why not? You also know that the hit to the PSD won’t come out of missions. It’ll come out of R&A, and that will be quite painful to the science community. It’ll come out of supporting people who would eventually lay the science groundwork for the Europa mission. It’s all connected, you see. If $40M/yr isn’t that big a deal for the PSD, why not just take it out of Astrophysics? It’s less of a big deal when it’s someone elses money, of course.

Is the science worth it? You’re pointing to the Astronomy Decadal? Um, the question is whether it’s in the Planetary, Earth science, or Heliophysics decadals. Do they say the JWST science is worth it to them? They don’t even mention it.

Re pivoting to the next Theme, I see no problem with that, it that’s what it takes to keep money in the Astrophysics Division. The Themes are arbitrary constructs that were put together not too many years ago. The AD Director who created them, I believe, is gone now. But to the extent that the HST community needs a mission, they’d better put their thinking caps on. A telescope with six of the JWST primary segments just might fit in a current launch shroud, and require no on-orbit deployment of at least the primary mirror. No, I’m not proposing a concept, just suggesting that people start brainstorming.

That the priorities of the Astronomy Decadal Survey are predicated by JWST flying should hardly be taken as prescriptive, but more a reminder about how absolutely crazy it was not to have that Decadal Survey invest at least a little thought in the possibility that JWST might end up being unaffordable. For a Survey that is largely predicated on something, a few “what ifs” about that something can be a healthy investment.

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20 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hi Henry,

Good point – yes, planetary has kicked in some funds to enable moving target observations on JWST. That’s so that planetary scientists can use it to observe Solar System targets, just as on Hubble. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m willing to bet that Hubble has spent at least 5 percent of its time observing solar system objects. Hubble is entirely astrophysics supported, of course – including the grant funding.
As to the themes, I wasn’t referring to the Morsian constructs, but rather the priorities set in the decadal. Remember that the funding levels used in that survey were tied to the Fy2010 budget – relative to those levels, the NASA science budget is being cut by around $2.5 billion integrated through 2015, or $5 billion for the decade. That’s a bigger impact than JWST overruns, and that’s why planetary wasn’t able to (realistically) consider any new major missions in its decadal survey. So there’s a bigger issue here and, yes, it is all connected – but it’s connected at a level above any individual division. Cutting the science budget even further is not going to help any of the divisions within SMD in the long run even if you get a few more grants in the short term.

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21 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Addendum – JWST is actually mentioned several times in the Planetary Decadal

p. 2-3 “The James Webb Space Telescope will also make signfiicant contributions to planetary science.”

p 7-30 “The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is an infrared-optimized telescope to be placed at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point. Non-sidereal (moving target) tracking requirements have been identified and are currently being implemented. JWST’s science working group is assessing the feasibility of observing Jupiter and Saturn, which may require restricting wavelengths or using subarrays;observations of Uranus and Neptune are planned, as are observations of their satellites and ring systems.”

p 9-26 – as an opportunity for intra-agency collaboration

p 10-13 “JWST will contribute to planetary science in numerous ways, including diffraction-limited imaging (in the near infrared) of both large and small bodies difficult to match with existing ground-based facilities, spectroscopy of the deep atmospheresof Uranus and Neptune, planetary auroral studies with high spatial resolution, and observations oftransient phenomena (storms and impact-generated events) in the atmospheres of the giant planets.

JWST will overlap with several planetary missions, offering unique complementary and supplementary observations, and can extend studies of Titan beyond the 2017 end of the Cassini
mission. The ability to track moving targets—a necessity for planetary observations—is currently
being implemented. JWST’s Science Working Group is planning many types of solar system
observations, including imaging and spectra of Kuiper Belt objects and comets, as well as Uranus and Neptune and their satellites and ring systems. Work is currently being done to assess the feasibility of observations of the brighter planets such as Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.”

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22 gilligan September 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm

“I agree about “substantial contingency funds”, though JWST has eaten through several sets of contingency funds that evidently weren’t substantial enough. So part of the lesson is that, for at least this large mission, our community doesn’t clearly understand how to set substantial contingency. It should be a matter of some concern to the community how, in the new replan, substantial contingency was finally, we are told to assume, figured out. Again, this is an issue that needs to be confronted. Kicking the project up to the 9th floor at HQ doesn’t give me that assurance, frankly. Why should it?”

Go read Cowen’s Star cents article. Griffin is quite specific that he asked for substantial contingency, and that the AA at the time, Alan Stern, did not put that funding in place. We don’t have the same insight, but maybe the same thing happened over the same period to MSL. That might put a different gloss on the current ciriticisms, particularly the emeritus letter.

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23 Henry3031 September 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Thank you for the references to JWST in the planetary Decadal report. What I meant to say, but mistakenly did not, was that the Planetary Community never considered JWST in its prioritizations. Again, there is no question that JWST will do excellent planetary science, but just that it isn’t clear that what it will do is worth $160M to them. The letter from representatives of the planetary science community suggests that it isn’t.

Griffin may be quite specific about having asked Stern for substantial contingency, but Stern has always been quite insistent that he put in everything the project asked for. This is Mike “not one thin dime” Griffin, whose word we’re taking, right?

The term “emeritus letter” is a new one to me, and one that sounds somewhat derisive. What is that name supposed to mean? Many of the scientists who signed this letter are, in fact, in emeritus positions. As a result, they are quite independent of the outcome of JWST, and can’t be accused of being conflicted. They don’t have “skin in the game”, as most JWST advocates do.

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24 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Hi,
Well, you’ve stated twice that JWST wasn’t in the Planetary Decadal – it is. Obviously the Planetary Decadal didn’t prioritize JWST – it’s not a planetary mission, and they’re not allowed to assign priorities to non-planetary missions, just as the Astro Decadal was not allowed to set priorities on any mission or observatory that targeted objects within the Kuiper belt (except the Sun). Those are the rules imposed by the National Academy. So your point is correct, but immaterial.

However, the fact that JWST is mentioned in the Planetary Decadal, and the fact that Planetary is paying for the moving targets capabilities, reinforces the fact that it is likely to be used by a significant fraction of the planetary community. It is not likely to be used by those who signed the emeritus letter because, as you say, they have no skin in that game. They are not active in current research. That could make them disinterested impartial observers, or uninterested, out of touch spectators. They may very well, however, represent other interests, just as biased as you feel the JWST advocates to be.That doesn’t make them (either side, in fact) wrong – it just means that you should look deeper than their reputations.

As to the funding history, consider the following:
Alan Stern was AA, and therefore had responsibility for the JWST budget in FY09;
The Casani report finds that the JWST budget in FY09 did not include adequate contingency for a mission of its complexity;
Griffin claims that he asked Stern to put in sufficient funding for 70% confidence level.
Now, the first statement is a fact; the second is an assertion by the ICRP, but definitely appears to be supported by the events post ’09; the third is an assertion by an individual that is contested by another individual. Who you believe is likely to depend on what weight you assign to each individual. Nonetheless, what is incontestable is that JWST was not assigned sufficient contingency funding at a time when Alan Stern was responsible for setting the budget. To accept his statement that he “just put in everything the project asked for” blatantly ducks his responsibilities and somewhat undermines his credibility as a perceptive program manager.

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25 Henry3031 September 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Alan Stern was not the Program Manager for JWST. It’s not up to him to decide what contingency funds the project needs if the project doesn’t ask for it. It was not his “responsibility” to do that, so there wasn’t any responsibility that he would have “ducked”, if in fact he wasn’t asked to do it. So your point is immaterial.

But do tell me about the “emeritus letter”. You use that phrase a lot. What does it mean? I suspect it doesn’t mean “letter from the old, sage, and wise”.

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26 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Hi Henry
You are correct that Stern was not the JWST program manager. However, he was in charge of SMD. That certainly makes him responsible for the programs across the board, and one would jppe that he would pay particular attention to the largest programs under developmrnt within each discipline. That’s what he’s paid to do. The Casani report made it abundantly clear that one of the failures in management was insufficient oversight from HQ. If a complex project comes to HQ with minimal contingency, it’s the responsibility of HQ to push back. You may not believe that, but that’s what the Casani report said, and I think they’ve significant in-kind experience. Tje options are that Stern knew what was happening and failed to act, or didn’t realise what was happening and failed to do his job.

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27 Gilligan September 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm

And “emeritus” is a reminder that over half the signators are no longer active in the field. This isn’t a letter from the DPS; this doesn’t reflect an official “planetary science” position; it’s an editorial from a private e-mail newsletter. That’s all the weight it should get – high on rhetoric, low on substantive content.

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28 Henry3031 September 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

Re “emeritus”, you might want to have a look at the 32 Nobel laureates who signed that letter in support of JWST. Quite a few emeritus profs there. We won’t hold that against them, will we? Such a title doesn’t mean that someone isn’t active in the field, but just that they’re not filling a faculty slot at their institution to be active in their field. It certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t have insights into what’s good for their field. In fact, by naming them Emeritus Profs, their institutions are specifically saying that they do. Those institutions want the continued association with these people. Now, many of these Nobel laureates were in chemistry, economics, and or physiology or medicine. So they were being asked to endorse JWST not because they know anything about astronomy, but because they are smart scientific celebrities. So we could call their letter the “celebrity” letter, I guess?

“Obviously the Planetary Decadal didn’t prioritize JWST – it’s not a planetary mission, and they’re not allowed to assign priorities to non-planetary missions, just as the Astro Decadal was not allowed to set priorities on any mission or observatory that targeted objects within the Kuiper belt (except the Sun). Those are the rules imposed by the National Academy.”

Let’s be careful here. Those are not the rules imposed by the Academy. I don’t believe the statement of task for the survey committee ever says anything about “non-planetary missions”. It almost seems like what you’re saying is that JWST was really a priority to the planetary science community, but they just weren’t allowed to say that in their Decadal report. Seems to me that’s backwards. If JWST was a priority to the planetary science community, they would have said that in earlier Decadal reports, and the PSD would be sharing significantly in the cost of the mission. By putting JWST wholly in the AD, NASA has declared it a non-planetary mission. It did that BECAUSE JWST was never considered a priority by the planetary science community. You’re saying that this declaration by NASA should then dictate how the planetary community views the science potential of JWST in their Decadal report? Strange concept.

If very suddenly, there were a planetary discovery that made JWST hugely important to planetary science, the planetary Decadal report wouldn’t be allowed to say it, and the PSD wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate more serious support for the mission?

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29 Gilligan September 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Hi Henry,

Sorry, you are wrong about the Decadal surveys – or maybe we’re just talking at cross purposes.There are strict rules as to what missions/observatories can be included for prioritization in each survey. The activities have to fall within the scope of the review (so, as I said, for astro that’s everything from the Kuiper belt out, and the Sun), and the reviews can only formally prioritize missions that have not yet begun construction (that would be prior to MREFC for NSF and, I think, before CDR for NASA). The review committees can comment on science from other missions, and show where they are synergistic or directly beneficial to their community, but they are not allowed to assign a priority to that mission.

So the Planetary Decadal was not allowed to set a formal priority on JWST, but it did highlight areas where the science was beneficial to planetary science. Whether they wanted to or not, there was no scope for saying “JWST is as important /less important/more important than a planetary SMEX”. On the Astro side, SIM could be formally prioritized because it hadn’t entered the appropriate phase, JWST could not be prioritized. Nonetheless, JWST capabilities and science figure extremely prominently in the final report.

And, no, I’m not saying that JWST would rank as the top priority within the planetary community – but I am pointing out that it is likely to be as useful, and as used by that community as Hubble.

As to the Nobels, well, they do seem to fall into a special category, even when they’re emeritus. Some are just more equal than others.

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30 Henry3031 September 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I think we’re talking at cross purposes. But the “strict rules” that you refer to deserve a citation. I’m just looking at the statement of task, which is the set of binding guidelines for the study.

JWST is not a priority for the Planetary Community because it never was listed as a priority in their Decadal Surveys. The idea for it didn’t come out of that community. It is likely to be as useful to that community as Hubble, which is not really saying a lot. Of course, it’s a little dangerous for the planetary community to lavish a priority on JWST early on, because then they know they’ll have to pay for it. I’ll say it again. The planetary community doesn’t obviously get several hundred $M of value out of JWST.

You’ll note, in the text you pulled out of the planetary decadal survey report on JWST, there is nothing specific there. JWST is a “good thing” in a general way, for planetary science, but no one could read this text and believe that there are truly major planetary questions that need answering with JWST. In fact, those words that are there surprise me as being surprisingly limp and hand-waving.

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31 Gilligan September 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Hi Henry,
If you won’t take my word, go ask someone who served on the decadal. Or contact the NRC for clarification. Those are the rules. Or ask someone in the NRC like Michael Moloney.
And consider that 5 % of time on HST is equivalent to around $700 million in support from astrophysics. I think a similar fraction of time on JWST isn’t a bad bargain for a couple of hundred million.
But the senate may make all this moot – for a while.
Just bear in mind that Stern et al don’t speak for all planetary scientists, that many will use JWST, that there are 2 Planetary scientists on the JWST SWG, and that those who argue against JWST may not have either a clean record or your best interests at heart.

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32 Henry3031 September 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm

“And consider that 5 % of time on HST is equivalent to around $700 million in support from astrophysics. I think a similar fraction of time on JWST isn’t a bad bargain for a couple of hundred million.”

Let’s be careful here. That’s 5% of HST for TWENTY YEARS. 5% for five years would have been $175M. But it’s still bait and switch. You tell the planetary community (as we tell international HST users), “You didn’t pay for this, but hey, we’re out to get the best science because it makes us look good. Plan on using it, and enjoy yourself.” Then you say, “Er, no, we’re going to make you pay after all. For something you’re not even going to get for seven years, and for science that wasn’t in your Decadal Survey report”.

Just bear in mind that two interdisciplinary scientists don’t speak for all planetary scientists. Except for those IDS’s, I haven’t heard a lot of arguments with the PEN editorial from the planetary community. Will the planetary community use JWST anyway? Well sure. If you’re spending a few hundred $M on it (as opposed to some other mission you might rather participate in), you might as well go for it.

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33 Gilligan September 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Hi Henry,
Maybe I was being too obscure – my point was that if we were doing “pay as you go”, then we’d be asking the Planetary division for $700 million or so for the Hubble observations. That’s already in the bank. But I think it’s a little strange to suggest that anyone is out to get the best science is to “make us look good” (there’s a fair chunk of the international community that’s paying for both Hubble and JWST, by the way).
But the broader point is that it really doesn’t make sense for an agency to lock things down into a rigid structure and remove all flexibility. If you’ve something that’s defined as an agency priority, then everyone should chip in (and it really doesn’t make sense to trot out the slippery slope argument – this sort of thing has happened before, and its recognized as the exception, not the rule). Same should hold if a future Europa mission gets in the same position as JWST.
As to the Planetary community, well, we’ll see – clearly it will depend on where any cuts happen to fall. Just note that the senate budget has over half a billion dollars more for science than the house – and that helps everyone in the long run. I am sure that they’ll make use of JWST because of its capabilities, regardless of whether they chip in or not.

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34 Henry3031 September 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

You can talk about how it should be, but if it wasn’t that way, and you change it, it’s called “bait and switch”. Really not that hard to understand.

Re astrophysics funding a Europa mission overrun, I’m sure the planetary scientists will remember that!

The Senate bill is out, and while they would bump SMD slightly up over the proposed budget, extra funds for JWST are added in as well. So SMD-JWST ends up $73M short. That would be taken, by the Senate, out of Earth and Planetary. Outer Planets, Mars, and Technology are hit at the 3-4% level. Helio is given the full budget allocation, and Earth Science is hit slightly less than Planetary (and with a much smaller cut than the House). So yes, let’s see if $40M in FY12 for JWST is worth it to the planetary community. Somewhat remarkably, the Senate would give Astrophysics approximately their full budgeted amount. I guess the Senate assumes that Astrophysics is already paying through the nose for JWST cost overruns, even in their budgeted amount.

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