Long before banks and General Motors set out to become "too big to fail", NASA had made it a core value. There is no better example of how far NASA has fallen from the can-do group that gave us the Apollo program than the James Webb Space Telescope fiasco.
First proposed and funded in 1996 as the successor to Hubble, by 2002 they had told Congress that 11 years - longer than it took for the Apollo Program to put man on the moon from scratch - was not going to be enough time to send a mirror outside our atmosphere.
Then it was delayed again. And again. And again, spending billions of dollars in cost overruns that prevented funding smaller experiments which had a great chance of working.
Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn
Engineers at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California say they have put the two halves of JWST together. Everything seems to fit, so at least one group wasn't using metric and one standard like other NASA programs have done. They just don't know if it works, there is no electricity. But at least the pieces seal.
If JWST is actually launched in 2021 and it works, it will see light from 200-300 million years after the Big Bang in a broader frequency than Hubble can.
Hubble is now approaching 30 years old. It was 6 when JWST was approved. With all of the money spent on JWST we could have built one and perhaps two interim programs that fit between what JWST will maybe do and the 800 million years after the Big Bang that Hubble "sees."
By doing smaller programs, JWST would have a much better chance of actually working in 2021.
Here is hoping it does work but if it doesn't the era of Big Science in America may be over in space the way it is in physics. Europeans don't have their version of GAO telling the EU it needs to keep an eye on ESA because their program managers will say anything for money the way America has. They tackle projects that have some confidence level they can complete.
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