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Funding for Webb telescope restored

The James Webb Space Telescope will use infrared imaging and a 6.5 meter primary mirror to look deep into the origins of the universe. (Image: NASA)

The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the continued funding for the James Webb Space Telescope on Wednesday. The House Appropriations Committee had previously threatened the funds for the telescope in July of this year. The telescope needs an additional $1.6 billion in order to be completed. Launch is now set for 2018.

Many supporters rallied behind the telescope this summer, emphasizing the contributions that the telescope will bring to our understanding of the birth of our universe. The telescope is already well into construction and testing. Supporters were especially anxious to save the telescope after NASA ended the Space Shuttle program this year, leaving many to wonder what NASA's future could look like.

The Webb telescope was designed to replace the Hubble Space Telescope, dubbed "Hubble 2.0\. It promises to look deep into the origins of the universe with infrared imaging, orbiting with the Earth at the second Lagrangian point, 930,000 miles away from the Earth in the opposite direction from the sun.

"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, Senior Project Scientist for the Webb, about the proposed funding cut back in July. "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."

Webb will have the ability to look at the planets scientists are beginning to find in other solar systems, an especially useful ability after European astronomers found a new planet that orbits its star at a distance that may be able to sustain life and hold water.

The Senate bill provides funding for the telescope so that it can be completed and launched by 2018 -- four years after the telescope was originally set to launch. The bill also provides $5 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) including funds for their Joint Polar Satellite system, another technological advancement that was under fire. NASA was given a total of $17.9 billion for fiscal year 2012; this is a 2.8 percent reduction from its 2011 funding. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is slotted to receive $6.7 billion, a 2.4 percent reduction.

Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said, \"In a spending bill that has less to spend, we naturally focus on the cuts and the things we can't do. But I'd like to focus on what we can do. The bill invests more than $12 billion in scientific research and high impact research and technology development... and funding for the development of our next generation weather satellites will ensure our Nation has timely accurate data to forecast and warn about severe weather in order to save lives and protect property."

However, the funding in this bill is not definite. The bill needs to be approved with the full appropriations committee and the Senate. It will then need to be reconciled with the House bill, which previously removed the funding for the Webb telescope.

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    The James Webb Space Telescope will use infrared imaging and a 6.5 meter primary mirror to look deep into the origins of the universe. (Image: NASA)
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    Rebecca Riffkin