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Senate bill would favour NASA science

Last week, supporters of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) breathed a sigh of relief when a Senate appropriations committee put forth a bill that would grant US$530 million to the beleaguered project in 2011 — a massive infusion towards its overall $8.7-billion price tag. But some observers were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and feared offsets to other NASA science programmes.

But in the newly released language that accompanies the Senate markup, all of the science divisions seem to do more or less okay. A specific breakdown begins on page 88. The Senate bill would actually give $5.1 billion to science — about $100 million more than the administration asked for. To my eyes, the biggest loser would be space technology, a new programme which would receive just $637 million compared to the administration’s $1-billion request. No surprise, perhaps, that chief technologist Bobby Braun, who oversees the programme, is leaving the agency.

As usual, the caveat is that this is not the end of the process. The Senate bill, once it passes the full chamber, must be reconciled with the House bill — which as many know would cancel JWST and cut overall NASA science funding to $4.5 billion.

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