Friday, May 20, 2011

James Webb telescope takes longer than Apollo program

James Webb was the superb manager who, as much as any other single human, got our species to the Moon. The space telescope named after him is a fitting monument - if it ever launches. Its management is, shall we say, NOT a monument to Webb's own.
The telescope was budgeted at $1B. It is now $7B. Yep, 600% cost increase. It was supposed to launch in 2007. Now it may be as late as 2024. Seriously. A 17-year slip. Jim Webb got Apollo to the Moon in eight years.
I don't dispute the value of the telescope, but if it had been managed to the original cost and schedule, we would now have four years of data from it, and the other $6B could have funded all sorts of other worthy space research. It's a given that development of a huge new space-based astronomical instrument is a major, risky undertaking. Technology proves harder to perfect than anticipated, NASA budgets fluctuate, and unexpected needs elsewhere often force program stretchouts. I wouldn't have been surprised or even much displeased if it had ended up with even a 100% cost overrun and a slip of two or three years. But this is no credit to NASA or Northrop Grumman. Webb may come back from the grave to demand his name be taken off the thing.
AS ALWAYS, ONLY MORE SO: All blog posts represent solely the personal opinion of the author as a private citizen.

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