Mikulski to JWST Workforce: "I Saved You from the Tea Party"

Mikulski to JWST Workforce: "I Saved You from the Tea Party"

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) told an auditorium full of workers on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) today that “I saved you from the Tea Party,” which wanted to cut the $8 billion program as a quick fix to budget challenges.

Mikulski and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke at a news conference held at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD where JWST is being built.  For many years Mikulski has chaired the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and last year rose to also chair the full Senate Appropriations Committee, making her a very powerful figure in determining how much money NASA gets and how it is spent.

An ardent supporter of NASA, and particularly programs at Goddard in her home state of Maryland, Mikulski was upset at significant cost growth and schedule slippage in the JWST program in 2010.  She demanded an independent review of the program.

That review, led by John Casani, faulted the program’s “budgeting and program management, not technical performance.”  Cost growth and schedule slippage had characterized the program already for years and the Casani report tagged the cost at $6.5 billion with a launch date of 2015 – up from a prior estimate of $5.1 billion with launch in 2014.  NASA subsequently made major changes to how the program is managed within the agency and did further analysis, concluding that the cost would be $8 billion for development (not including launch or operations) with launch in 2018.

As Bolden said today, Mikulski since has held NASA’s “feet to the fire” through the practice of “tough love,” which Bolden praised.   Mikulski had a different take on it, though.

“It’s not me that’s tough on you. The Tea Party’s tough on you.  I’ve saved you from the Tea Party,” she asserted.  The Tea Party was “seeking quick fixes to cut the budget” and JWST at “$8 billion was standing out there like in an orange jumpsuit waiting to be cut … because of lack of stewardship and oversight at NASA.  But we’ve righted that ship with the Casani report … and an actual game plan for making sure the project is completed on time.”

Mikulski lauded the international cooperation aspects of JWST and called for a special round of applause for Canada – “one of the most wonderful neighbors you could have in the world.”   The briefing included a virtual tour of the JWST by a bunny-suited Paul Geithner, JWST Deputy Program Manager, from the white room where JWST is being assembled.  The extent of international cooperation in the project was evident as he named the various countries involved in building JWST’s instruments.   In addition, JWST will be launched by the European Space Agency.   Mikulski saw international cooperation as a feather in America’s cap:  “A big nation can build a telescope, a rich nation can build a telescope, but it’s only a great nation that shares that information, that knowledge, that know how with the world.”

Bolden reassured the gathering that JWST remains on track:  “We’ve got cushion in our schedule and we’re hanging in there on cost.”

Mikulski asked Geithner what lessons were learned from the Hubble Space Telescope, where the mirror was found to be defective once it was in orbit.   Geithner said the “fatal flaw” with Hubble is that the same tools used in manufacturing the mirror were used to verify it met specifications.  With JWST, completely separate tools are used for manufacturing and verification.  In addition, the program is reviewed by an independent expert panel of scientists and engineers.  Finally, the telescope can be adjusted after it is deployed in space.

JWST “will secure our lead in astronomy … for the next 50 years,” Mikulski exclaimed.  As great as Hubble is, JWST will be “far more superior.”

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.