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Saving the Webb Space Telescope

What's the Latest Development?

The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees N.A.S.A. has proposed a 2012 spending bill that would give the space agency just $16.8 billion, $1.6 billion less than last year. The new budget would eliminate funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (J.W.S.T.), the space agency's long-anticipated follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope. But N.A.S.A. chief Charlie Bolden, in his testimony before Congress, said the agency can deliver J.W.S.T. to space for about the same price as Hubble—and the science returns would be even greater.

What's the Big Idea? 

The $6.5 billion J.W.S.T., named after a former N.A.S.A. administrator, is billed as the agency's muscular successor to Hubble, which launched back in 1990 and is still going strong. J.W.S.T. is an infrared observatory designed to peer further back into the universe's early days than ever before. "I have tried to explain what I think is the importance of James Webb, in terms of opening new horizons far greater than we got from Hubble," Bolden told members of the House Science, Space and Technology committee Tuesday. "I would only say that for about the same cost as Hubble in real-year dollars, we'll bring James Webb into operation."

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