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Space sciences/Planetary science

The House Appropriations Committee has begun considering a proposal to cut all funding of the James Webb Space Telescope, praised as the "Hubble 2.0," it promises to display the origins of the universe, the birth of stars, and the atmospheric makeup of far off planets.

Shortly before the announcement, Webb's Senior Project Scientist, John Mather, conducted an exclusive interview with AAAS MemberCentral. Mather, a Nobel laureate and AAAS member, discussed where the telescope stood in construction and testing.

"The James Webb Space Telescope will be far more powerful than the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope, taking us billions of years back in time to see the first luminous objects, taking us inside dust clouds to see how stars and planets form, and even showing us the details of planets around other stars," said John Mather about the proposed funding cut. "We at NASA and our international partners in Europe and Canada have already done the hardest parts: we have polished the mirrors and finished two of the four flight instruments. We know what it takes to finish the observatory and launch it. I truly hope we will be able to do so."

In this podcast, Dr. Mather talked about why NASA took on such a large project, and what it promises to show us about the universe once it is launched. Mather provided a summary of our current knowledge of the origin of the universe, and what we hope the Webb telescope will show us about the wonders of the universe. Different aspects about the telescope, including its infrared lens and how it will unfold in space, were also discussed.

On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting funding to the project. The telescope is over budget, and NASA needs an additional $1.6 billion and several more years to finish it. Webb's original launch date was for 2014, but is now set for 2018. 

The telescope is deep into construction, all of the mirror segments are completed and polished, and much of the equipment is in the testing phase. The telescope is very large, the sunscreens alone are the size of a tennis court, so it has to be folded up to fit inside the rocket that will carry it into space. After launch, it will unfold and orbit with the Earth, around the sun, over a million kilometers away from us, to keep it at cryogenic temperatures. Webb will measure in the infrared spectrum, looking inside clouds of space dust to discover how stars are born.

After you've listened to the podcast check out our video with Mather where he discusses several past projects at NASA, including the COBE Satellite project for which he was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. And If you are interested in learning more about Webb, watch our video tour of the telescope clean room and see how construction is coming along.