Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Eyes in the sky

This is a picture of the James Webb telescope nearing the final stages of manufacture ready to be loaded into the nose cone of an Ariane 5 rocket and blasted into space to take over from the Hubble as our largest and most capable space telescope. It's very exciting, this beauty will be many times the power and resolution of Hubble (which has had an outstanding run) and the new science it will undoubtedly discover will, I'm sure, amaze the next generation as much as Hubble has amazed mine.

The project is quite a bit over budget; back in 1997 the estimates were around the half a billion dollar mark, today the costs will exceed 8 billion, quite an overrun. That's a lot of cash and many would argue it could be better spent on other things. I understand their point of view but I disagree; in the bigger scheme of things it's not a lot of cash, for example it's 1/250th the cost of the Iraq war so far or about the same as we spend in this country on pet grooming per year. It's something that I believe needs to be viewed with a broader perspective and weighed against long term research, technological and educational advances as well as sheer human wonder (which, like great art, is hard to value in dollars). The bigger worry for me would be at 8 billion dollars I hope the rocket boys have got their ducks in a row.

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