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Subcommittee Gets Update on the James Webb Space Telescope

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2015

(Washington, DC)  Today, the Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space held a hearing to receive an update on the progress of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Ranking Member Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her opening statement, "JWST is the next generation astrophysics observatory following Hubble. More capable and sensitive than Hubble, JWST is optimized to study infrared light from the Universe, which will allow JWST to observe the first galaxies formed in the Universe. In addition, JWST will see solar systems forming in in our galaxy and possibly detect the presence of water on planets around other starsan indicator that such a planet may harbor life. That is exciting and that is why I just can't wait for JWST to be launched and working."

She continued, "I recognize that the road to building JWST has not been an easy one. The observatory's history of cost growth and schedule delays has not gone unnoticed by the Congress...With launch now a little more than three years away and major integration tests looming ahead, NASA will be under pressure to demonstrate that it can meet the launch date within the cost estimate."

JWST was rebaselined in 2011 with a life cycle cost estimate of $8.8 billion and a launch readiness date in October 2018.   JWST has consumed a significant amount of agency resources allocated for astrophysics and thus limited NASA's ability to initiate other new high priority astrophysics projects.  Since the project was rebaselined in 2011, and a year-by-year budget profile established, the budget requests for JWST have reflected the funding profile established in the replan.  Congressional appropriations have also followed the budget levels identified in the replan.  

Members of the Subcommittee sought answers to a number of questions: how JWST will leverage other telescopes and observatories to benefit studies of the universe; with three years until launch, what technical challenges and associated risks still remain; what steps are being taken by NASA and its contractors to ensure that cost and schedule commitments are met; and what is the level of confidence that NASA will be able to meet the October 2018 launch date.

Members and witnesses also discussed the groundbreaking science that JWST will enable, the spinoffs including improved measurement of human eyes that have resulted from JWST to date, and how the JWST helps inspire students to pursue STEM careers. 

Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather said in his testimony, "Children come into science wanting to know what we are made of, how we got here, what is the history of the universe, and where we are going. These are not simple questions, and there are no final answers, but the quest inspires children to learn and adults to continue to learn. People come to the United States from around the world to pursue their dreams, and NASA is one of the reasons. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is a prime example of our contributions to education. Nearly every science classroom in the country has posters and teaching materials from Hubble. Every astronomy textbook is illustrated with Hubble pictures. Math teachers use examples from NASA projects to show why children need to know how to measure and calculate. We expect the James Webb Space Telescope will provide similar inspiration for students and teachers around the country."

Witnesses

        Dr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA

        Ms. Cristina Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)

        Mr. Jeffrey Grant, Vice-President & General Manager, Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Corporation

        Dr. John C. Mather, Senior Project Scientist, James Webb Space Telescope, Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), NASA, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Please visit our website:  http://democrats.science.house.gov

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