US lawmakers vote to kill Hubble successor

In a fresh blow to NASA’s post-shuttle aspirations, key US lawmakers voted Thursday to kill off funding for the successor to the vastly successful space-gazing Hubble telescope.

The US House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science approved by voice vote a yearly spending bill that includes no money for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The move — spurred on by belt-tightening in cash-strapped Washington — still requires the full committee’s approval, the full House’s approval, the Senate’s approval, and ultimately President Barack Obama’s signature.

But the relatively mild dissents in the committee, which said in a terse statement this week that the project “is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management,” suggests the JWST faces an uphill fight to survive.

The vote struck a blow at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s goals with the space shuttle program about to end after 30 years, and Obama’s decision to axe a new plan to return astronauts to the moon.

NASA plans to lay out a budget that “will allow us to launch the Webb telescope in this decade,” deputy administrator Lori Garver told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We will be working with Congress to assure them we can manage this program and develop the most amazing space telescope,” she said, calling the JWST “a perfect example of reviewing the unknown and reaching for new heights.”

In February, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin told lawmakers the JWST had careened billions of dollars over budget.

Initial estimates put the cost of the telescope, designed to help the hunt for knowledge about early galaxies in the universe, at $1.6 billion, but now the total price tag has ballooned to $6.5 billion, he said.

NASA has repeatedly pushed back the telescope’s launch date, now set for 2018 at the earliest.

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