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#1 2018-02-20 20:37:15

Registered: 2017-09-20
Posts: 156

Cancelling WFIRST Telescope Will Permanently Ruin NASA


Feb 20, 2018 
Cancelling WFIRST Will Permanently Ruin NASA
by Ethan Siegel

Last week, the White House released their plans for the 2018 fiscal year budget. Across many metrics and departments, it was a bloodbath, gutting about $50 billion from agencies focused on science, health, food, arts, humanities, the environment, and education, among many others. But among the reductions was one murderous stroke to NASA: the elimination its flagship mission of the coming decade, WFIRST. The Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope was chosen by NASA to be the single most important astrophysics mission of the 2020s, and has been in the early planning stages for nearly 20 years. Countless astronomers and astrophysicists have spend their entire professional lives working to make this mission happen, and teach us things we'll never know, otherwise, about the Universe. Cancelling it is a decision that must be revoked, or NASA will cease to be the leading science and space agency for planet Earth.

While it's disastrous for the agency to consider the loss of five of its Earth science missions and the elimination of its office of education, the loss of WFIRST would be an incomparable disaster for the agency.

According to Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate of NASA:

What we learn from these flagship missions is why we study the Universe. This is civilization-scale science... If we don't do this, we aren't NASA.

This was a statement he made just last month at NASA's Town Hall at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting. WFIRST was selected as the #1 overall mission for the 2020s back in 2010; it's a mission that takes approximately 15 years to design, contract, execute, build, deliver, and launch. In terms of science, it planned to primarily serve a number of major communities within astronomy and astrophysics: supernova research, extragalactic astronomers, exoplanet researchers, studies of the galactic center, and wide-field studies that focus on gravitational lensing and properties of the cosmic web.

The way it's poised to do this is by taking a telescope that's similar in optical properties to Hubble, but by outfitting it with all-new instruments optimized for a wide-field view of the Universe. Instead of being limited to a narrow slice of the Universe, WFIRST could image it just as deeply as Hubble, except 60 times as quickly. The "WF" stands for Wide-Field for a reason; the amount of Universe it can image is huge! And as a result, the amount we can learn about the Universe is huge as well.

Some of our greatest existential questions would be answered by WFIRST. How does dark energy behave, for example? Does it evolve over time? Is it uniform in all directions? Do the results from supernovae, the cosmic web, and extragalactic signals all point to the same set of properties? WFIRST would answer all of these questions as no other mission, past, present, or even proposed, would be capable of.

In 2010, the National Research Council's Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey made WFIRST the top priority recommendation in the large space mission category. They also made a recommendation that they add on significant capabilities for exoplanet studies, including a state-of-the-art coronagraph, and those are being implemented. By monitoring a large sample of stars in the Milky Way's center, WFIRST will allow us to detect, via subtle changes in brightness, the presence of exoplanets that NASA's Kepler could never have seen. We will learn how common Earth-like planets are around a wide variety of stars and over a very large range of orbital parameters.

In addition, like all such flagship missions, including Hubble and James Webb, there will be a guest observer program. Not only will research in galactic, extragalactic, exoplanet, gravitational lensing, baryon acoustic oscillation and supernova sub-fields be considered, but any astrophysical topic that could take advantage of WFIRST's unique capabilities can propose. This is poised to be the leading observatory for a wide slew of purposes for not just a few years, but — like Hubble — potentially for decades.

It was the top choice out of all the missions that the entire astronomy and astrophysics community proposed. It represented a huge effort in collaboration between groups with widely disparate interests and passions, and allowed cosmologists and exoplanet scientists to work together on putting together a mission that these non-overlapping communities could both benefit from. It included the possibility of a starshade, which would enable planet-finding and measurement to an unprecedented level.

And with a nuclear stroke from the Trump administration, it all threatens to crumble away.

We absolutely cannot let this project go down without a fight. If WFIRST gets cancelled, it's a sign that even the most important NASA project, as determined by internal, external, and independent reviewers, is subject to political whims. These projects take more than a single presidency to design, approve, build, and launch. Federal funding for these vital missions that enhance all of society must not be allowed to disappear because one human — even if it's the president — wills it. The joys, wonder, knowledge, and benefits that come from exploring and understanding the Universe are greater than any individual.

25 years ago, the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) was cancelled, and today, the United States doesn't even have a major particle physics facility in the same league as the LHC at CERN, which is itself a vastly inferior machine to what the SSC would have been. The United States must not cede leadership in the space and science arena to Japan, Russia, Europe, China, India and Canada in the same way. Humanity's capability of understanding the entire Universe is at stake.

Read the full article at: … 617ac957b0


#2 2018-02-20 21:25:51

Registered: 2016-11-26
Posts: 1,202

Re: Cancelling WFIRST Telescope Will Permanently Ruin NASA

How to respond to this? Yes, it's a very elegant argument, couched in somewhat nationalistic-altruistic terms. On the other hand, NASA projects seem to be financial Black Holes these days. Just refer to the preceding article regarding the bending launch tower dedicated to the SLS for the counterargument.

As a dedicated amateur astronomer, the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST) would undoubtedly be a magnificent research tool for the astronomical community, but the nail in it's coffin was the price tag which was undergoing price creep. A project of this type should be started and finished in less than 10 years, or it's subject to cancellation as was the continuation of the Apollo missions. Was what ultimately sank the SCSC 25 years ago was the congressional cost/benefit analysis; the money to be spent would have been a financial windfall for a single state, and not spread around to a variety of constituencies (the way SLS is kept afloat).

The argument that China, Russia, Japan, or some other wannabee superpower will fund something like this is ludicrous. The USA is at this juncture the ONLY country even capable of doing this.

Last edited by Oldfart1939 (2018-02-20 21:27:19)


#3 2018-02-20 21:59:32

From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 11,187

Re: Cancelling WFIRST Telescope Will Permanently Ruin NASA

If cancelled plan to send the instruments to HUbble and keep it up there a little bit longer....
Sounds like a good proving ground mission for the deep space habitat.. out fit it with a service bay to pull the aging telescope into and pressurize it for retrofitting.....


#4 2018-02-21 09:37:45

Registered: 2016-11-26
Posts: 1,202

Re: Cancelling WFIRST Telescope Will Permanently Ruin NASA

Discussion of this instrument has all but disappeared from the more "newsy" websites. It makes me wonder: how deep was support for this instrument in the first place? My post #2 was somewhat mealy-mouthed, but the cost associated was mind-boggling. If NASA had a much larger budget to begin, I would definitely support another space observatory. I couldn't find anything as whether or not this has progressed beyond the "study" stage regards any hardware construction. Seems "the jury is still out," on this project?


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