“It’s terrible,” says David Spergel, a Princeton University astrophysicist and cochair of the WFIRST science team, of the Trump administration’s recommendation to cut the mission. “We’re sort of abandoning leadership in space astronomy.”
The proposal, released by the Trump admiistration Monday, recommends eliminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), citing “higher priorities” at NASA and the cost of the new telescope, according to The Atlantic.
NASA broke ground on WFIRST development in 2016. The mission was gifted a 2.4 meter telescope from the National Reconnaissance Office, an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense. The telescope would feed the mission’s main instrument, an imager designed to investigate dark energy, the mysterious substance astrophysicists believe makes up most of the universe. Another instrument, a coronagraph, would directly image and study the chemical compositions of exoplanets outside our solar system.
The president’s budget proposal has some troubling news for the space agency’s next big astronomy mission. The Trump administration has put dozens of federal programs on the chopping block, including a brand-new nasa space telescope that scientists say would provide the biggest picture of the universe yet, with the same sparkling clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope.
“Given competing priorities at nasa, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the administration,” the proposal states. “The budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research.”
The James Webb Space Telescope is the NASA telescope that’s almost ready to go after two decades of work. The Webb is expected to launch in 2019 to a point 1 million miles from Earth, where it will study the cosmos in infrared light and provide images and data using a mirror far bigger than the one on Hubble, which launched in 1990. WFIRST is in line after Webb as nasa’s next flagship astronomy mission, and is currently in early stages of design and development. The mission would launch sometime in the mid-2020s.
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