News & AnalysisAstrophysics

Scientists Fear WFIRST Will Be Trailing the Pack

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Science  04 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6021, pp. 1121
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6021.1121

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Last August, a National Academies panel charged with ranking the priorities of U.S. astronomers for the next decade identified the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as its top choice in the category of space observatories. The panel recommended that NASA launch the $1.6 billion mission by 2020 as the best way to advance the study of dark energy and the search for new extrasolar planets. But the ballooning cost of the James Webb Space Telescope, and the resulting delays in its launch, have all but guaranteed that the space agency will not be able to deliver WFIRST by 2025, much less the end of the decade. And NASA has rejected a backup plan that would have given it a 20% stake in a similar European dark energy mission. That decision, announced last week, leaves U.S. astronomers with the prospect of being marginalized in the next decade.