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Budget Battle Splits U.S. Scientists

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) — U.S. scientists are split over congressional threats to cut funding for the overdue and over-budget James Webb Space Telescope, observers say.

Telescope advocates say eliminating funding for the Webb project would cripple the quest for knowledge about the origins of the universe, The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday.

“The project is the core of astronomy; not only astrophysics, and not just in the U.S., but in the world,” said astrophysicist Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, adding that ending the project would mean “a 20-year setback in astrophysics.”

However, planetary scientists worry efforts by NASA and Webb supporters to request more money to save the telescope project will siphon federal dollars away from their own programs, such as robotic exploration of the planets.

Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, chairman of the House subcommittee that “zeroed out” Webb funding in the House version of NASA’s budget in July, said it wasn’t his intention to scuttle the project.

“I don’t want to kill James Webb,” Wolf said. “I think the James Webb is very important. … I think it will be resolved.”

Still, he said, his subcommittee has other agency budgets to worry about.

“I can’t fund just James Webb and nothing else,” he said.

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