News Update: Hubble & Spitzer Heir to Open Eye to Cosmos in Search for Signatures of Life


he James Webb Space Telescope will go forward after all, but US lawmakers warned that the troubled flagship mission will be under close scrutiny, capping additional funding to complete the project at $8 billion. Its escalting cost overruns and schedule delays led the US House of Representatives to threaten its cancellation in July, when about $3 billion had been spent, and more than 75 percent of its hardware is either in production or undergoing testing.

JWST is meant to follow up on the work of the Hubble Space Telescope, peering back farther in time to the formation of the first galaxies and possibly looking for signatures of life in the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets. Its unprecedented resolution and sensitivity from long-wavelength visible to the mid-infrared, will enable its two main scientific goals — studying the birth and evolution of galaxies, and the formation of stars and planets.

On 17 November, lawmakers approved a 2012 budget for NASA, which includes $530 million to keep JWST on track for launch in 2018. But they also warned that the project will be reviewed again if its overall cost looks likely to grow beyond the latest estimate of $8 billion.

Even JWST's chief advocate in Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, is warning NASA to keep the project's costs under control. "We cannot accept any further overruns," she said.

While JWST moves full speed ahead, NASA is cutting back on support for commercial space taxis, meant to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station in the post-shuttle era.

Congress approved just $406 million in assistance for companies developing space taxis, less than half of what the White House had proposed. That could mean a longer wait before these vehicles are ready to fly, previously estimated to be in 2017.

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