Hall: This is ""Last Opportunity"" for JWST

Hall: This is ""Last Opportunity"" for JWST

House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) lauded the scientific advances expected to result from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but warned that repeated overruns and schedule delays are trying Congress’s patience.  

Reminding JWST Program Director Rick Howard and the other witnesses at yesterday’s hearing about the severe budget situation, Hall said that “NASA’s latest replan for the [JWST] is the agency’s last opportunity to hold this program together.”


A memo prepared by committee staff in preparation for the hearing succinctly reviews the history of the troubled program, originally slated to cost $500 million with launch in 2007.   The latest cost estimate is $8.8 billion with launch in 2018.


Hall and several other Republican members of the committee honed in on those cost increases and expressed concern about whether the latest estimate is any more reliable that those submitted previously.   Howard began his testimony by admitting that the agency managed the program poorly.  After thanking Congress for providing an increase in JWST funding for FY2012, he said:  “We at NASA recognize that we made your already difficult task of funding important programs in these distressed fiscal times even more difficult through our poor past performance on JWST.”


Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who chaired the committee in the late 1990s during a troubled time for the International Space Station (ISS), worried that JWST will be “another money pit” like the ISS.  Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) pressed the witnesses to rank JWST as a priority within NASA and say what programs should receive less funds if JWST needs more.


Howard, who took over the JWST program management responsibilities last year following a management shakeup, told the committee that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has said that the agency’s top three priorities are JWST, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).   He stopped short of saying what programs should be cut.   The other three witnesses also declined to specify what should be cut.  As Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) later pointed out, since none the latter three works for the government, they were not in a position to answer and he called for a subsequent hearing with appropriate witnesses if that line of questioning is to be pursued.  The other witnesses were Roger Blandford of Stanford University who chaired the most recent National Research Council Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics; Garth Illingworth, an astrophysicist at the University of California Santa Cruz who served as a member of the Independent Review Team that led to the management shakeup last year; and Jeffrey Grant of Northrop Grumman, prime contractor for JWST.


The overall message from the committee to NASA was that despite congressional support for the scientific goals of JWST, this must be the last time the agency comes to Congress with news of overruns or schedule slips.  NASA’s response was that it will restore Congress’s confidence by ensuring that JWST comes in on the cost and schedule promised in the latest replanning effort — $8.8 billion life cycle cost (of which $8 billion is development) and launch in 2018.


Howard’s statement that Bolden identified NASA’s top three priorities are JWST, SLS and MPCV is different from what Bolden told the Senate Commerce Committee on November 17.  Bolden listed the agency’s top three priorities as SLS/MPCV (combined as one), the International Space Station with enhancements including commercial crew, and JWST. 


  • Hearing Charter
  • Opening statement by Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX)
  • Opening statement by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
  • Written statement of Rick Howard, JWST Program Director, NASA
  • Written statement of Roger Blandford, Stanford University
  • Written statement of Garth Illingworth, Univ of California Santa Cruz
  • Written statement of Jeffrey Grant, Northrop Grumman
  • Webcast

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