Friday, October 21, 2011

"Write for Flight!" | Letter Writing Campaign

Calling All Science Warriors & SaveWebbers!

All hands on deck, folks!
It is time for our final coup de grĂ¢ce. Congress has decided to speed up the process of passing the FY 2012 bill, which includes funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This does not give us a lot of time to act, but act WE MUST.

Here's the Scoop:
Technicians hard at work on the James Webb Space Telescope
As it stands right now, the US Senate Subcommittee voted to fully fund JWST in this bill. However, this stands in stark contrast to the funding figure proposed by the US House Subcommittee in July 2011: $0.00. The process that is happening right now is a deliberation between the House and Senate Subcommittees in which they will negotiate a final figure. In short, it is still possible for the JWST to be underfunded or zeroed out.

saveJWST volunteers have worked tirelessly to get the word out and your efforts have been rewarded. We created an online petition to raise awareness. You stepped up, signing an amazing 5,039 signatures in favor of the JWST. The petition is, as you read this, on the way to the US House Subcommittee. We created a Facebook page. You gave us millions of page views. You have emailed your friends, messaged your coworkers, and tweeted the effort to the entire world. All of this hard work and relentless energy has led to this moment. It has given all of us the ability to fight this battle. Now we must act.

Infrared Composite of the Center of Our Galaxy.
We Need Your Help!
We need you to help all of us save this telescope.
The 13 members of the House Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, and Science control the purse strings for the James Webb Space Telescope. If you want the JWST to fly, you will need to contact them personally. Our sources on Capitol Hill say a handwritten letter will go the furthest as far as getting your Congressperson’s attention. Phone calls fall in second and emails come in third. So please take a few minutes to write and send this massively important letter. Our target representatives need to know you feel that JWST should fly. If you don't tell them, they won’t know how you feel. Now, we’re not asking you to write him an entire book; any length—a few sentences or paragraphs—would be wonderful. And if you don’t have the time to write a letter and mail it, give your Congressperson's office a call or send him or her an email. If you are feeling especially geared for battle, DO ALL THREE!

Everyone will like to know if you've written, called or emailed. So, when you have contacted your Congressperson, swing by the Facebook page and leave comment. Say "I'm a 1" if you used one method of contact, "I'm a 2" if you contacted them using two methods (next level: unlocked), or "I'm a 3" if you are an elite science warrior.

Who to Contact:
This part is easy. There are 13 members of the US House Subcommittee. We want to open a line of communication with all 13 members, plus House leadership, John Boehner and Eric Cantor. See below a list of Congressional Representatives who we need you to contact.

Write for Flight | Contact Congress Handouts

It will be most effective if you contact John Boehner or Eric Cantor, as most of us don't live in the 13 districts that the US House Subcommittee serves. However, if you do live in these 13 districts, then GREAT. You can certainly contact them. If you have friends or family in these districts, then get them to contact these 13 representatives instead. Or, if you are feeling especially ambitious, write them all. You may not live in their district, but they will be making decisions about the JWST that effects all of humanity.

No matter who you contact, its important that you make your voice heard. And its important that you spread the word. Seek out conversation on the Facebook page and on Twitter, using the following hastags: #savejwst #savethistelescope #writeforflight #jwst #jameswebb #jameswebbspacetelescope

Here is a tweet we encourage you to use and adapt:
RT! Final Push to #saveJWST from Congressional Shortsightedness. This is it folks. Help us #writeforflight

It's time to save the Hubble of the Next Generation. It's time to save the James Webb Space Telescope. Write for Flight, Science Warriors!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Honeycomb Has Landed! JWST @ the Maryland Science Center (Oct. 14-26)

Science Warriors: The Honeycomb has landed! Swing by the Maryland Science Center before October 26th, take a picture with the tennis-court-sized InfraRed telescope model, and enjoy a super-string of stellar events!

  • Friday, Oct. 14, 2:00 p.m. | Remarks by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (Location: Outside by model)
  • Friday, Oct. 14, 5:00 to 5:45 p.m. | Meet an Astronaut: Leland Melvin & John Grunsfeld (Location: Outside by model)
  • Friday, Oct. 14, 6:00 p.m. | Panel Discussion "The People behind JWST" (Location: Presentation Room)
  • Friday, Oct. 14, 7:00 p.m. | Stargazing Event (Location: MSC Courtyard)
  • Friday, Oct. 14, 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. | STEM Educational Tent & "Ask a Scientist" Booth (Location: Tent and outside by model)
  • Saturday, Oct. 15, 12:00 to 7:30 p.m. | STEM Educational Tent & "Ask a Scientist" Booth (Location: Tent and outside by model)
  • Saturday, Oct. 15, 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. | NGC Presentation "Science & Engineering of the JWST" (Location: Presentation Room)
  • Sunday, Oct. 16, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. | STScI Presentation "Telescopes as Time Machines" (Location: Outside by by model)
  • Sunday-Tuesday, Oct. 16-18, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. | STEM Educational Tent & "Ask a Scientist" Booth (Location: Tent and outside by model)
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26, 9:45 a.m. | Dedication of JWST Exhibit (Location: Maryland Science Center)
Learn More @

Monday, October 10, 2011

SaveJWST Video Contest: You Choose the Winner!

Greetings SaveWebbers:

We've received 2 wonderful video submissions, "Genesis" and "Vision," for the whyJWST? Video Competition, and now it's time to vote for the winner! Please take a few minutes and watch the videos (either below or in the survey) and select your favorite one: Survey Link. The video that receives the most votes wins, and its creator will receive 1 hour of access on the powerful, 2-meter Faulkes North or South telescope to observe any celestial object in the universe of their choosing (see details here). Voting ends on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. (EDT), and the winner will be announced on Monday, October 17, 20111 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT). Science Warriors: Cast your votes!

Petition & Video Competition Close: What's Next?

Attention SaveWebbers and Science Warriors:

There are two items of note.
However, all is not over. Our most important effort has yet to come. Read below for details:

The Petition was open from July 10, 2011 through to October 9, 2011 a total of nearly 3 months. We received an amazing 5,039 signatures! We thank you heartily for the effort, enthusiasm, and seriousness with which you, our most important supporter, helped spread the word and engage your publicly elected officials about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Without you, this entire endeavor would have been impossible. This is especially true for the effort to save JWST because 99.9% of this has been conducted through social media and the Internet. If your signature is on this petition; if you tweeted about the effort to save JWST or posted on Facebook or talked to your friends and family, or contacted your democratically elected representatives, then you have sent a clear message to your contemporaries about the importance of JWST and the importance of science and technology in our society. You have also sent a message to future generations, saying "even now, during a period of dismal economic woes and conflicting priorities, there are those among us with vision and a long-term awareness of what is important; what will advance our species to one day travel to the stars."

So what's our next move with the petition? We will be packaging the signatures, printing them out, and sending them to key members of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science starting today. We will keep you updated on this progress.

The Video Competition is also now closed. We have accepted the final submissions and they are spectacular! Now, we will need your help on this one...we will be setting up a public vote to determine the winning submission. We still have a prize to give away (1 hour of access to the 2-meter Faulkes Telescope in Hawai'i or Australia) and it will be up to you, our saveJWST supporters, to determine the winner. Stay tuned to this blog and to our Facebook page for the announcement of the public vote; It will be happening soon (read: over the next 5 hours).

What's next? So, now that this Video Competition and the Petition are closed, are we done here? Oh no we are not! Our most important effort is coming up. The House and the Senate are now deliberating the final numbers for the FY2012 bill, which includes funding for the JWST. Now is the most important time to act. Have no fear. We have a plan. And we will be announcing this plan on Wednesday October 12, 2011. So, stay tuned and get ready. This Telescope must fly!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Zoom In: The Next Step

Greetings SaveWebbers: Today we present a guest post from a fellow SaveWebber and all-around Science Advocate, Laura Dattaro. Laura Dattaro is the associate editor of Baltimore City Paper (archive) and a contributing writer for EarthSky. She can be contacted at; follow her on Twitter at @ldattaro. Read her post below:

Picture a globe. A map of the world. If you have one nearby, take a look. At the macro level, it's a picture of land and sea, outlines of continents as they meet the shores of the oceans. If you have a topographic globe, you can run your fingers over it and feel individual mountain ranges, the tactile signature of our home planet.

Zoom in, and you can see outlines of countries, cities, towns. You can find rivers and lakes, deserts and jungles, islands peppering the seas. All of it's labeled and accurately scaled: everything in its right place.

Now picture of a map of the universe. Imagine a massive black plane, all the macro pieces—galaxy clusters, nebulae, black holes—placed just so, the emptiness of space washing upon their ample shores. Zoom in, and you could see individual stars, planets, comets. Zoom in far enough, and you'd find our tiny globe.

A map of our universe today would be highly incomplete. We know a lot—a whole lot—but there is still a nearly endless expanse of black yet to be filled in. Our own globe used to be similarly lacking. In fact, early citizens of Earth named it so because they hadn't yet seen the seas. (Eventually, some thought to rename it Water, but alas, the name was stuck.) But thanks to millenia worth of gallant explorers, men who gave their lives to forge the oceans and map the world, we now know what our home looks like, and we're learning more every day.

Consider Powers of 10, a short video made in 1968 that's been preserved by the United States National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. The whole thing is worth a view, but for our purposes, stick with the first half, until about 4:40 in. The filmmakers have zoomed out from two picnickers in Chicago by powers of 10, and have reached 100 million light-years away, “the limit of our vision.”

Now, consider this Scale of the Universe, created in 2010. It too conceptualizes the scale of our world in a way that veers toward comprehensible. But what in 1968 was so much empty space, dotted only by galaxies and galaxy clusters, is today a colorful explosion of nebulae, black holes, exoplanets, quasars, and supersonic star jets. Nowhere in Powers of 10 do we see the Pillars of Creation, or the Tarantula Nebula, or even our own Kuiper Belt, referenced only as "a fringe of myriad comets too faint to see." (Though Gerard Kuiper first hypothesized a plethora of bodies at the edge of the solar system in 1950, it wasn't until 1992 that astronomers sighted the first Kuiper Belt Object.) And nowhere does the video hint at the vastness noted in the Scale of the Universe: That our universe is 14 billion years old, and so we have billions of cubic light-years to explore.

The famous Hubble Deep Field
What made all the difference? A lot of technology, and a lot of work, but, largely, it was Hubble. In 1995 the Hubble Deep Field was released, an image showing what was thought at the time to be 1,500 galaxies huddled together in the space of sky that would fit in the opening of a drinking straw. When Hubble's technology was updated—by astronauts using space shuttles—it took new images, and new data, and resulted in a 2004 composite image that showed 10,000 galaxies in the same amount of tiny space. Hubble let us pin down the universe's age for the first time. It discovered that the universe's rate of expansion was itself expanding. It made the first observations of atmospheric compositions of exoplanets. It filled in a lot of space on our empty universe globe.

But there is much left to do, and Hubble is dying. We cannot go back and fix it, and even if we could, it's time to move on. And what's next is the James Webb. Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore began planning JWST in 1995, just five years after Hubble's launch, because they knew building it would be a challenge. And it has been one. JWST is criticized for poor management, poor planning, and poor budgeting. But what must be remembered is that nothing like JWST has ever been built before. As a prominent scientist (who requested not to be named) at STScI recently told me, this is not like building a car. We have made many millions of cars. We know how much they cost, how they fit together, how much time they take to build. But no one knew, when work began on JWST, just what problems to anticipate. And the initial schedule and budget were overly optimistic.

NASA generally builds a 25% reserve into its budget—money to be used in the event that something goes wrong. For each year of JWST work up until now, reserves were well below 10%, and possibly as low as 3%. With a project as massive and integrated as JWST, if one thing goes wrong, it snowballs. Small delays roll into bigger ones; time and money are lost exponentially. And you end up where we are today: seven years overdue.

This is a problem, and no one is denying that. But the project's leadership has been entirely reworked. JWST is now its own division within NASA, rather than part of the astrophysics division. Everyone at the senior management level has been replaced. In fact, changes took place almost immediately following the release of an Oct. 29, 2010, Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) report, requested by Maryland's state Sen. Barbara Mikulski, which first exposed the myriad problems plaguing the project. NASA issued a response detailing its agreement with all of the ICRP's recommendations and its proposed steps to comply with them; by Dec. 1, 2010, the first ICRP-recommended executive meeting between Goddard, NASA, and the prime contractors took place in California.

L2 - the "Gravity Well" where JWST will be parked
Here's the biggest part: All of the hardest work is done. While it's difficult to pin down specific numbers, I was recently given estimated figures. The money that's left to be spent can be split into three parts. About one-third is dedicated to construction of the remaining pieces: the complex sunshield (much of the design work and modeling of which is done), and the spacecraft bus, a relatively simple piece. Another third is meant for integration—putting all the pieces together—and testing. And the other third? Reserves. It might not even be spent. (The current $8.7 billion price tag, keep in mind, includes seven years of operations, data archiving, and other life-cycle costs.)

But why are we building JWST? Let's consider the science. James Webb is designed to see in the infrared in order to capture light from the most distant objects in the universe. It can see through the dust and gas smearing the skies and watch stars and planets as they form. And it can test the atmospheres of distant bodies to search for signs of planets like our own, planets that future, more ambitious technologies could study, or maybe, one day, visit. We are poised to discover our own creation. We are set to unearth interstellar siblings. We are prepared to fulfill dreams that have existed since man first peered at the sky. And we stand to lose everything.

Comparison of formation in Visible and Infrared
In the wake of the ICRP report, officials within NASA were forced by law to prepare an “analysis of alternatives,” a report that examined if the same science goals could be achieved with a cheaper piece of technology than JWST as currently planned. (The report has not, to my knowledge, been released to the public.) The answer? Nope. If we want to do what JWST is designed to do—if we want to look back to the big bang, search realistically for life, watch creation as it happens—the most cost effective way to do it is to build and use the James Webb.

And that's really the point. There is no if. There is no should. Exploring is simply what humans do. It's what we've always done, and it's what we will continue to do. If we've proven anything about ourselves, it's that we're not content with not knowing. Men and women through the ages have dedicated their lives to exploring our land, our seas, and our skies, and those are the men and women we still hold in admiration decades, centuries, and millenia after they've died. James Webb is simply the next step—and as long as we're still alive, it won't be the last.

For more information on JWST's status, see JWST Program Director Rick Howard's and Astrophysics Director Jon Morse's July presentations to NASA's Astrophysics Subcommittee. If you missed STScI's September Webinar, you can listen to the audio and view the presentations here or download PDFs of the slides here.

For more about the quest to map our home planet, read the chapter on Earth in Dava Sobel's The Planets. Better yet, read the whole book!