Planetary Radio • Feb 04, 2022

Space Policy Edition: JWST and the politics of mega-science (with Robert Smith)

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On This Episode

Robert smith portrait

Robert Smith

Professor, Faculty of Arts - History, Classics and Religion Department, University of Alberta

Casey dreier tps mars

Casey Dreier

Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society

Robert Smith shares the story of how the astronomical community decided upon the JWST as the follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope, the coalition politics required for mega-projects like Hubble and JWST, and how that dynamic shapes modern science. Dr. Smith holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. He is a professor at the University of Alberta. His book, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics, was released in 1989.

JWST early design concept
JWST early design concept An early concept for the James Webb Space Telescope – known at the time as the Next Generation Space Telescope – was designed by a Goddard Space Flight Center-led team. It already incorporated a segmented mirror, an “open” design, and a large deployable sunshield.Image: NASA
Six things we like about JWST
Six things we like about JWST Among other things JWST will study exoplanets, small worlds, the outer planets, and the early universe. The telescope is an international collaboration between the U.S., Canada, and Europe that will provide stunning images to inspire the public.Image: The Planetary Society

Transcript

Mat Kaplan: Welcome once again to the Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio, this being our February, 2022 edition of the show. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio, welcoming back the co-host for the Space Policy Edition, our senior Space policy advisor, and chief advocate Casey Dreier. Welcome again, Casey.

Casey Dreier: Hey Mat, always happy to be here with you.

Mat Kaplan: We have a spectacular interview to play for people today. I think we were both, well, you were inspired to bring him on Space Policy Edition. I was simply inspired when I heard him in a recent event sponsored by the National Air and Space Museum with our friend Teasel Muir-Harmony. Am I right about that? Is that what made you think or were you already thinking, boy, he'd be a great guest?

Casey Dreier: A mix of both, but always a good reminder to look at basically the political history of the JWST and how it fits into larger trends of what he defines as mega science projects, projects that span decades, span continents and span thousands of different people working together in these broad political coalitions for these massive efforts to understand the natural world around us better.

Casey Dreier: JWST is very likely the most expensive single science mission at the time of launch ever made and absolutely fits into that history. And again, as a historian of that project, end of the broader trend of space telescopes, just a perfect person to have on the show.

Mat Kaplan: I've heard it of course, because I was supporting the recording of this conversation that we're about to share with everybody. I think it is at least as valuable because of the more general discussion of what you've already said, big science. The super colliding superconductor that fiasco is mentioned, that tragic fiasco, this is going to happen again. And we need to be prepared to properly support ambitious projects like this.

Casey Dreier: Yeah. And the super colliding superconductor for those of us who weren't alive then, and us, meaning not me, I was alive-

Mat Kaplan: I was.

Casey Dreier: It was an aborted large Collider being made in Texas that was canceled in the early '90s during a wave of budget cutting. This is the same period in which the space station narrowly avoided the same fate in 1993. And eventually that decision shifted the balance of investment and expertise in large particle colliders to Europe, with certain and a Large Hadron Collider that they ended up going through in a much broader process.

Casey Dreier: So these large projects can be risky to do. You put all your eggs in one basket, you hope for the best. And again, as we record this, and one of the reasons we waited a month and JWST is now at L2, it's fully deployed, its instruments are turned on, it is aligning its mirrors right now, everything seems to be going well.

Casey Dreier: And so we talk about some of the lessons learned from previous attempts. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope in terms of how they put together and work to support a mission like JWST that really does, politically speaking, have to succeed.

Mat Kaplan: I would recommend that people check out the just previous episode of the weekly show, Planetary Radio, and my conversation with John Mather, the senior project scientist for JWST who was there from the start. And he addresses some of these same issues. For any of you to whom the super colliding super conducting Collider is brand new, look it up.

Mat Kaplan: You will be blown away by the caverns tunnels that were already being dug when this project was canceled basically by Congress. We have a lot that we have underway that we certainly hope will never be canceled because we are working to make sure that projects like this, like the JWST get their opportunity to reveal the universe. A lot of that work will be taking place the Day of Action, which Casey, I guess, is going well so far, a lot of people signed up.

Casey Dreier: Yeah. We've had great response this year to our virtual Day of Action, which is again happening March 8th, 2022. So if you're listening to this prior to that date, sometime in February, ideally, there's still time to register at planetary.org/Day of Action. There's also options there for ways to pledge, to take virtual action. That's a lower lift it doesn't cost any money to register. You can find ways to participate and support your fellow members of The Planetary Society who will be spending their days meeting with members of Congress, again, virtually on March 8th.

Casey Dreier: And again, it's one of our major events that we do for advocacy here at The Planetary Society, putting a lot of work into it, a lot of support, always exciting and inspiring to see the efforts and commitment by our members here at the organization to really step up and make a difference with space exploration and that personal direct advocacy, that makes a huge difference. So, that's at planetary.org/Day of Action. Go and learn all about it and register if you'd like, or again, pledge to take action for free.

Mat Kaplan: That pledging to take action, that's somebody that anybody around the world can do. Because, Day of Action sadly, but understandably going to DC or actually virtually visiting in these Congressional offices is limited to US citizens.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, the particular nature of the US system makes it very straightforward to directly engage with the people who make the funding and political decisions for the National Space Program. And of course that's where we tend to focus most of our efforts, but yes, if you live outside the US, we do have options for you to provide that assist, to reach out to people in your sphere of influence and to learn and commit to practicing advocacy and bringing it to your local community. So, that's also at planetary.org/Day of Action. We have something for everyone.

Mat Kaplan: And of course our monthly plea to become a member of The Planetary Society. You'll be supporting efforts like the Day of Action and everything else we do, including the show you're listening to right now, that's planetary.org/join. Casey, we'll start playing back that terrific conversation you had in a moment. But before that, anything quick that you want to mention?

Casey Dreier: Well, the main thing that we're looking at for the next month that we will hopefully be able to talk about in March is the fiscal year, 2022, US budget and NASA budget there that we've been working on for over almost a year now, actually, and it's been delayed months and months. There is some hope that the US Congress will be able to reach a compromise and fund critical programs. And particularly for major issues like planetary defense and the NEO Surveyor mission really need to get this budget passed to really start moving those projects forward.

Casey Dreier: Again, we are in a broad, very busy period of political system here in the US, there's midterm elections coming up later this year, there's a half a dozen major bills, all backlogged and somewhat divisive process. And now of course, we have an opening in the US Supreme Court, which will bog down the political process a bit more. So a lot of stuff, juggling NASA, again, as almost always not the driving force behind whether or not the US Congress will pass a budget, but unfortunately highly dependent on the larger political process to support them for fiscal year 2022.

Casey Dreier: So, we'll be continuing to push for that internally and through my colleague, Brendan in Washington, D.C., and we will hopefully have something to say and hopefully something positive to say in March the next time we have a Space Policy Edition.

Mat Kaplan: That's Brendan Curry, of course, the chief of Washington Operations for The Planetary Society who joined us on the show last month. And we'll probably hear from him again before too long. Okay. Set us up for this conversation.

Casey Dreier: Well, Robert Smith, Dr. Robert Smith is on the faculty's professor in the history classics and religion department at the University of Alberta. He had previously worked at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian as a historian there and has specialized in his career on the history of mega science and particularly the space telescopes.

Casey Dreier: He has a wonderful book that he published in 1989, actually before the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope that really dives into the political history, the ups and downs about how the coalition formed to sustain this first, really major astronomical space telescope. And how that then is very relevant to this discussion we're going to have for JWST. That book is called The Space Telescope, a study of NASA science technology and politics, 1989, highly recommended, really enjoyed reading that.

Casey Dreier: And he has been a historian of the JWST since its initial discussions in the 1990s. And really as he'll point out in this discussion going all the way back to the '80s, people were starting to plan for this next step. Very well connected on this issue, very insightful. And we talk about not just the telescopes themselves, but how they fit into this broader conception of mega science post-war governmental investment into these large efforts to understand the cosmos.

Mat Kaplan: Here is the conversation that Casey had online with Robert Smith just a few days ago. And we'll catch you on the other side.

Casey Dreier: Robert, welcome to the Space Policy Edition. Thanks for being here today.

Robert Smith: My pleasure.

Casey Dreier: I'd like to open big picture. If you had to choose one or two ways to define how the process of science has changed in the last 100 years, what would you define those as?

Robert Smith: One thing I think is that you have a lot more, what you might call grassroots efforts in terms of deciding what kinds of large scale projects are going to get done. We can see a big shift say with American astronomy. If we are looking really pre World War II, it tends to be a few people that you can call elite leaders of astronomy who make the decisions. And after World War II, particularly by the time we're getting into the 1970s, then the political culture of the United States shifts, and we have much more grassroots efforts.

Robert Smith: And so, what it means to be say an astronomer, a pantry scientist, or whatever shifts in that there is a new set of roles for people in terms of a more political aspect to what it means to be a scientist, not just as I say, amongst the elite who have to go off and seek patronage for their great new plans at say the Mount Wilson Observatory or something like this, but it's much more the case that people need to move outside their labs, their research stations, and so on if they want large scale efforts to proceed.

Robert Smith: And I think also again with the very largest scales, we see the scale continually increasing, what was large scale say in the 1890s is not particularly large scale by the 2020s. And so, I think scale and also just what it means to be a scientist is almost what you might call a reconstitution of the scientific community and the nature of the scientific community and its decision making.

Casey Dreier: Do you think that's a direct result of this postwar reassessment of the role of public funding in scientific advancement and research?

Robert Smith: I think that's very largely the driver in that you have this new form of patronage, anybody who's done research in the 1930s and looking at say the development of astronomical observatories where you've got very large scale ones like say the Matt Wilson Observatory, that amply funded, but for lots of people you get excited if you can buy a new box of pencils, whereas post World War II, there's this opening up of science.

Robert Smith: And you might say that what we have is almost a democratization of science I think, in that you have many more people who are engaged in the science making process, the making of science policy, deciding what projects will get done until you have the situation today, where we have the decadal surveys and you have hundreds of people involved in those, tens of committees and so on. And so, it's a very different way of proceeding because you have fundamentally this compared to the standards, say the 1930s, there's remarkable influx of funding into science.

Casey Dreier: It strikes me as almost a reflection of the institutional structure of the primary funding source, if the resources are available to you through, in the US case, a democratic representative institution, the scientific community almost had to reconstitute itself in a democratic fashion, to your point of what you were just saying to build a coalition of broad scale support to succeed in resourcing some of these ambitions. Is that unique to US or Western democratic institutions, or do you think that's reflected more broadly in big science projects in other nations as well in other political systems?

Robert Smith: I think if we look at outside the United States, then you have far more, at least in what you can call the Cold War period, far more efforts to collaborate because it's a fundamental way of doing business. And so, if you look at the development, say of the European Space Agency or accelerated building at sun, you have a number of nations invariably involved in these really large scale efforts.

Robert Smith: And it's different to the United States. If that the United States can very often go it alone. And in the Cold War chooses often to go it alone as a means of demonstrating US scientific and technical prowess. And an example of that would be for example, the Superconducting Super Collider, which very much operates off a Cold War model in that if people want to collaborate with us, that's fine, but we are the leaders and you're junior partners, we would like your money please, but it's not what you might call a genuine collaboration, I think.

Robert Smith: And so it's more, I think certainly in this Cold War period, and top up until we're talking about the early 1990s, it's far more the case that the United States is prepared to go it alone. Whereas in Europe, you need to have international collaboration just because you don't have the resources available for very large scale projects in one nation.

Casey Dreier: A lesson that you get from reading your work over the years, your books and your publications following projects like the Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb Space Telescope. And as you mentioned, just now, is this increasing responsibility of the scientific community to become its own advocates and to organize itself in a political fashion beyond this platonic idea of doing science, of this pure research mode, where they publish, raise your head up every now and then publish a paper.

Casey Dreier: Ultimately, this process strike me as the social organization function. Do you think it in a sense the access to potential revenues, a huge amounts of resources through public policy, do you think that creates ultimately a more social and engaged, scientific community that it prevents it from becoming too isolated or do you think there's a consequence of this, that they're not really scientists anymore, that this is becoming a function of creating this administrator class of resource seeking institutionalists? I guess, to put it in a more pejorative fashion. Is there a downside to this as you go through into this big science era of scientific progress?

Robert Smith: I think you see the emergence of a division of labor that is quite different against what we were seeing, before World War II in that you would have these elite leaders of science who will be doing all the politicking and you have pretty much everybody else. Whereas after World War II, we have a different division of labor in that we have projects that are going to last for a very long time and it takes a long time to actually get them off the ground.

Robert Smith: So, we see at times some people spending a period doing the advocacy relationships in Washington and so on, and then they may drop back. And then example of that would be, for example, Lyman Spitzer, John Bacall, who were the leading, I think astronomer advocates for what becomes called the Hubble Space Telescope. So they were pretty much full time on the Hubble Space Telescope for two or three years in order to win support for it. So, you can see people moving out and then in to these different kinds of roles, but certainly you have the emergence of people who are going to be what you might call science managers.

Robert Smith: They're not at the work bench or the telescope anymore because they've gone beyond that in their career structure. And if you have projects that are going to last or say, take a decade to get approval, maybe longer, then they will last 10, 15 years or whatever it might be, then sometimes you've just got to have people in those roles and positions to provide a continuity. So, it makes it very hard to drop back. So I think we have seen this emergence of science managers who are quite different from anybody we find in the pre World War II period.

Casey Dreier: It strikes me again, reading your work that we're talking about big science or mega projects that are used interchangeably, I think in this discussion. But to me, it's really defined by this increasing organizational complexity to your point, that the hierarchy begins to form and coalitions need to be built, and then you need to start engaging with all layers in the political process. And it seems to be adding a social complexity to the scientific community that didn't necessarily exist before in terms of self-organization and hierarchy within their social structures.

Robert Smith: I think that's right. And one thing that I would say is we've moved into what might be called an era I think of mega science, obviously not all projects are mega science and lots of terrific science gets done with small groups, but we have moved, I think, beyond even what you might call big science, which was a term that came him into use in the 1960s. We've moved to this age with the very biggest project. So mega science representing, I think another shift in scale.

Robert Smith: So I see the James Webb Space Telescope as this scale beyond the Hubble Space Telescope and the Hubble was certainly going beyond anything that had come before, at least in terms of space astronomy, I think. And so, we see this shifting sense of scale and you need new relationships, new roles had to be fulfilled when you have that drive to these new scales, I think.

Robert Smith: And so, the organization that would've worked for say a ground based observatory in the 1950s is simply not going to work for say the Hubble Space Telescope. And clearly the way that Hubble is being managed has influenced how the James Webb Space Telescope will be done. But I see distinct differences between the two of them, again, in terms of social relationships management advocacy. And then if we look the recommendations, say of Astro 2020, that being now quite upfront about these generational projects here.

Robert Smith: And so the successor to the James Webb Space shall see they're talking about the 2040s, for example, no more we can finish this in a decade or in the case of Hubble, Hubble was going to take five or six years initially from the start of construction to launch, it took a bit longer. Webb from serious work in the late 1990s to 2021, that's a very substantial period. And again, now we are looking at the 2040. So there's a recognition I think that the time to get these projects up and going is to be counted in terms of generations now.

Casey Dreier: I was reminded of a proposal moving through in the heliophysics division in NASA, the idea of an interstellar probe, that's talking on the scale of a century almost or 50 years, a good portion of a century. So, you're thinking of this feronic commitment or a cathedral like you're starting a project you won't see the end of it, you carry on a successive generation.

Casey Dreier: I want to start talking a little bit about the history of Hubble though, because I think it's very germane to our discussion of James Webb, to this broader points that we're talking about in terms of this development of mega science and the shifting needs of the scientific community to work within this, reading your book on the history of Hubble, I was struck by this idea that before they could even really start selling what was to be called the large space telescope or large orbital telescope at the time starting in the 1960s or '70s.

Casey Dreier: They had to first convince the other astronomers that this was worth doing. And you realize, again, what a paradigm shift had to happen in order for the community, even to begin in agreeing on this. Can you talk a little about what was the coalition building that needed to happen to even start talking about big science in space for astronomy?

Robert Smith: Well, I think there was something of a divide in the 1960s between those astronomers who were enthusiastic about space and those astronomers who thought these enthusiasts about space astronomy, well they would live to learn their lesson. Because there had been this earlier history of space astronomy efforts involving rockets, and often they'd ended up with no scientific data from these rocket flights.

Robert Smith: It had been quite challenging and it was not seen by many ground based astronomers, certainly not all but many ground based astronomers as a diversion of monies because these activities will be so much more costly than ground based astronomy. And so, that was always one of the objections in the '60s and '70s to doing large scale space astronomy. The sheer cost of it, think of what you could do with ground based astronomy for the cost even of the launch vehicle for example.

Robert Smith: What I think happens with Hubble is there has to be a lot of groundwork done to persuade the ground-based astronomists that space astronomy is actually a very attractive option and it can provide capabilities that we cannot achieve any other way. And so, there's a definite effort to bring on board some of the leading ground-based astronomists. A key figure for example, was someone who died a few years ago, Alan Sandage who was an extremely prominent figure. He was invited to meetings involving the planning for what eventually becomes called Hubble.

Robert Smith: And so, it's a definite effort to establish a broad base of support and it takes time. And so, that's just almost your first step, because it's going to be a really big project. You need lots of astronomists to be involved. So if you can't have an enthusiastic community, then you are just not going to be able to build it in the end, because you're not going to have enough astronomers involved.

Casey Dreier: You can't just get one prominent astronomer to secure billions of dollars in the two decades worth of commitment from the public funds. You need to have the conception of a broader value of the scientific community behind this large project. And that coalition building, I think is one of your key themes, right?

Robert Smith: Yes.

Casey Dreier: Is that, how do you build... Or maybe the pressure, the selection pressure then comes with, how do you have a project that creates in itself the coalition needed to support it? A broad enough swath of the astronomical community sees this as valuable. And that seemed to be something that really drove the technical and observational capabilities of the Hubble, was something that was able to address large swaths of the community.

Robert Smith: That's right. And I think we see a prime example of that in just the sizing of the primary mirror for Hubble, because it starts off and people are looking at three meters, there are money problems, political problems in the mid 1970s, and an obvious way to cut your costs, to make the project more attractive politically is reduce the size of the primary mirror.

Robert Smith: But if you drop down too far, you lose so much scientific capability, lots of people will say, "Well, it's just not worth our while. Goodbye." And so, you've got to do this balancing act where the scientific capability has to be attractive enough to keep people within the coalition, but you've still got to look to figure, where can we make some cuts here? What is the size that people will accept? And so at one point there were three options that were closely studied three meters, 2.4 meters, 1.8 and as good bureaucrats, you end up with 2.4 in the middle.

Robert Smith: And so, that was still keeping people on board and the key scientific program that people would often discuss in that connection was, okay we can see [inaudible 00:28:12] variables in the [inaudible 00:28:13] cluster. If the mirror is 2.4 meters in diameter. And so that was this connection between scientific capability and support. Now, if we look at a more recent example, say the Superconducting Super Collider, one point there was an option to reduce the energy of the Collider from the planned 40 TeV down to 35 TeV.

Robert Smith: And it would've said save $2 billion. And it would've made the Superconducting Super Collider, more attractive politically because we've reduced the cost, but the energy physicists decided that they weren't going to do that and they were going to stick to the 40 TeV. And I think you could reasonably say that was one of the contributing factors to why the project got canceled.

Casey Dreier: This interesting interplay again, of every big science project then is the maximum technological capability that the political system will bear almost that they converge at this solution, if it happens. And so in a way, you have these two different institutional interests that are both at odds with each other and then they seek out eventually this point of agreement in terms of what people will pay, how it's going to be made and also then the capabilities.

Casey Dreier: The scientists always want more capability. And then the institutions always want to pay as little as possible. And so, at some point they're discovering where that exact match is through the process of, it's not just you sit down and agree, it's almost through this process of political back and forth over time.

Robert Smith: There has to be, I think a negotiation. It's not okay, we've got this wonderful project, here's how much it's going to cost, here's the capability please give us the money. That isn't how it works. You have these negotiations and they can be quite extended. Now, obviously you have other people involved who might say, "Oh, look, that's far too big. That's nuts."

Robert Smith: You can't build a hundred meter mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope or something absurd like that, but it's fundamentally a set of negotiations that are going on, I think. With Hubble, we have this effort over an extended period to find what you might also call a sweet spot.

Casey Dreier: You had this wonderful word that I'd never... It was great, adhocracy for Hubble you said over the years, because people were making it up as they went along as the implication of, what can we do to just keep the coalition together in order to build this big space telescope?

Casey Dreier: I think there can be frustrations or like, why don't we just do the right thing the first time? Or why don't we just build the ideal case? But again, you're not working in this ideal rational system, you're working in a fundamentally as your point when you're doing a big science project, you're working in a political system.

Casey Dreier: At the end of the day, when you're engaging with public funds, with public oversight, you have the role of politics, whether you want it or not. And you have to then adapt to the realities of that and compromise sometimes the ideal theoretical science case in order to get some end result out of that process.

Robert Smith: I think that's right. The idea that you can separate the science and the politics in any easy fashion just does not work I think with these really big scale projects. And also a point that I think is useful to keep in mind with coalition building is that you've got to establish a coalition to get the project off the ground, to get approval.

Robert Smith: But you also need ideally to keep that coalition in place, because for big projects, you are invariably running into problems, including big political problems. And so Hubble established its coalition right at the very start so when there were difficulties, you have these groups and people and institutions, you can call on to go advocate yet again, to keep the project moving.

Robert Smith: With the James Webb Space Telescope, there's a near death experience in 2011 when a congressional committee zeros, James Webb out of the budget, there was not really at that point, a very clear coalition, I think, so it was putting together a coalition on the fly, which is a dangerous way to do it, I think.

Casey Dreier: Well, I think one of the points you made in one of your talks was you have to advocate for the project over and over and over and over again. You can never stop advocating for a big project when it takes decades to build.

Robert Smith: And it's so visible and it's consuming so much money. It is not going to be something that can be left alone as it were. Okay. Now we've got approval. That's good. Let's come back and get the scientific results in 10 years or 15 years or whatever it's going to take to actually build it.

Casey Dreier: I want to wrap up a few things with the Hubble and then move on to James Webb, just to finish this quick story of Hubble. You had to convince the scientific community that it was even worth it. You had to convince NASA, they'd been building a few smaller scale, 36 inch or so space telescopes throughout the '60s and '70s.

Casey Dreier: They start building the Hubble but through the implication of your book, it sounds like it didn't necessarily get the attention and institutional support it really needed until the 1980s, did they have to sell the concept itself, even had to work its way through the institutional systems of NASA to be relevant and to deserve that commitment. When did it really become, would you define it as the mega project it came out to be?

Robert Smith: I think the scale of the project was not really at least widely grasped until I think the operations begin in the 1990s. So, construction of Hubble begins in 1978 and that was where the plan launched to come in 1984. So, it was going to be six years from start to launch, it takes clearly much longer.

Robert Smith: But one of the key things for Hubble was to have a very interested NASA center for whom building Hubble was really a central commitment. That turns out to be the Marshall Space Flight Center who were looking for business in the 1970s because Apollo had wound down what roles, what activities was the Marshall Space Flight Center being involved with.

Robert Smith: Now, they had some experience from the high energy astrophysical observatory, the x-ray observatories conservators, but they were very enthusiastic about taking on Hubble because it was new business, the Goddard Space Flight Center, which had much more background in space astronomy wasn't really as involved as might have been expected.

Robert Smith: They still had a major role in terms of the building of scientific instruments, but the main center for Hubble was the Marshall Space Flight Center. So these institutional factors play in to how a project gets shaped and then how it proceeds because if Marshall had said, "No, we are not interested." I'm not quite sure what the institutional arrangement that would've been workable would've been.

Casey Dreier: So Hubble launches, obviously in '80 or '90 after delay from the challenger explosion and your book came out in '89, interesting history of the project itself. Something I noticed from that book was that in order to save money, they had started to assume more risks that they had built fewer test proof of concept engineering devices or test devices.

Casey Dreier: And you can see this trade off of saving money in the short term, but then having this almost catastrophic public relations disaster with the initial launch of Hubble and its spherical aberration throwing off the optical design. At the same time you highlight, and I think it was '89, that scientists start to really seriously think about the next space telescope, the successor to the Hubble before it launched and went through it's initial problems.

Casey Dreier: What did that spherical aberration, how did that change the scientific community's approach to a successor and also the NASA institutional approach to building a follow up mission? Was that a huge impact or was that something that you worked through and just moved on from?

Robert Smith: First of all, let me just say one thing about Hubble because at the very start of the construction of Hubble, the very first meetings, the message was this is a low cost success oriented program. So, that was a fundamental message. That means we are going to be assuming risk fundamentally, because how do you keep it low cost success oriented? You're building risk.

Robert Smith: Now, you could say, okay, well you've got the shuttle. So it's a different situation with Hubble from say, James Webb, where you are sending it 1.5 million kilometers away. But what ends up happening is that with fair collaboration, which was discovered just a couple of months after the launch of Hubble in 1990, with fair collaboration, you have a really quite catastrophic event in terms of the public relations, because now Hubble becomes in one cartoon of flying lemon for example.

Robert Smith: It becomes the butt of jokes on late night comedy shows, it leads the evening news or major congressional hearings, hearings packed, congressional hearings where the NASA administrator is hauled over the calls. Other things are going wrong with the shuttle at that point. So really what drives Hubble off the front pages is the invasion of Kuwait.

Robert Smith: And so, the Hubble story was going on for quite a period because it became almost for the United States a national inkblot test where you look at this inkblot and you see all sorts of things in it. And so, there are lots of commentators looking at Hubble and reading all sorts of messages about the state of the United States from this seeming failure of Hubble.

Robert Smith: And so, the planning for Hubble successor, which had actually begun in the 1980s, as you said, the planning still moves, but it's not going to get very far at that point because you cannot proceed with the successor until the original is actually shown to work and to work well. And so there's almost, you could say a few years break before the planning really picks up again for the James Webb Space Telescope, or at least planning that people are going to take seriously.

Robert Smith: And so, one of the things you see again, just thinking of another mega project, the cancel Superconducting Super Collider, the failure of that has meant in many respects, decades of failure to get anything remotely like the Superconducting Super Collider for American High Energy Physics. And so, the American High Energy Physics community is still feeling very much the failure of the SSC in 1993.

Robert Smith: But with Hubble, what you have is the repair mission to Hubble by the shuttle in December, 1993, new instruments added, other changes are made to Hubble. And so instead of becoming the symbol of national failure, because Hubble is working and is seen to be working, it becomes a symbol of national success and a kind of can-do attitude. We can solve these problems.

Robert Smith: And that is where I think for example, the images like the famous Pillars of Creation play an absolutely fundamental role in remaking the relationship between Hubble policy makers and the general public. There are other events like bits of Comet Shoemaker Levy smashing into Jupiter and Hubble be involved in observing Jupiter at that point as well. So, there's this very public remaking of Hubble and Hubble becomes a success story. Now, there is political space to proceed with a successor that had not been there before.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, I think you can almost see that epitomized in these committee report. One is the decadal survey from early '90s, the Bacall committee report that did not recommend going for a Next Generation Space Telescope initially, despite calling for infrared being the main area of study for the '90s, but then you have this mid-decade report. Is it the Dressler committee report in 96?

Robert Smith: Yes.

Casey Dreier: After the Hubble had been repaired, then going and say, let's do this Next Generation Space Telescope before [inaudible 00:42:11] I think is what they recommended. So, you almost bounded on either end of that failure and success is the formal recommendations of the scientific committee feeling the confidence to propose even moving forward within the next big project.

Robert Smith: That's right. Hubble's return from the dead, as it were, doesn't determine that you are going to get a successor. But what it does do is open the door to getting success. So, whereas previously with Hubble seen to have failed, at least in the eyes of many policy makers, then the door is shut. Now, at least the door is open, but you've still got to figure out how you're going to get through.

Casey Dreier: Interesting to compare the two projects for what ultimately became JWST is that at least the second time around, really, if you're talking about this level of space telescope, it seems like they don't have to convince the scientific community anymore that this is a good idea. That's almost baked in, that was almost a one time paradigm shift that had to happen in the '60s and '70s to convince this astronomers that space based astronomy was worth that investment. Is that accurate? Would you agree that that was sold by that point? They didn't have to reconvince people to do that in the '90.

Robert Smith: I think that's right. And the nature of being an astronomer has shifted because if you look say at the early '60s, you have people who are optical astronomers, people who are radio astronomers, and you have emerging groups that you can start to call X-ray astronomers or gamma ray astronomers.

Casey Dreier: Things that can only happen in space, basically.

Robert Smith: Right. Or the radio astronomers are starting to it with the optical astronomers, but by the 1990s, people are moving a bit more and the system is a bit freer in that you can have people making observations in different wavelength regions, and they're not always pegged down to one particular wavelength region.

Robert Smith: And so again, this democratization of astronomy that had happened where astronomers can get access to these facilities, which give them opportunities in different wavelength ranges, means that what it is to be an astronomer has shifted a bit from what it had been in the 1960s, where you were very much, you are a radio astronomer, or you are an optical astronomer. Now things are somewhat more fluid by the time we are looking at the 1990s, because anybody can apply for time on the Hubble Space Telescope, for example.

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Casey Dreier: Something else. I feel like there was an advantage this time around in the late '80s, early '90s, as they began thinking about the successor was they had an institutional. There was institutions that existed that didn't exist when the Hubble was first proposed, particularly the Space Telescope Science Institute and AURA, it's managing partner.

Casey Dreier: Institutional bureaucracies within NASA that builds space telescopes, they had these groups of people, administrative class, bureaucratic classes that want to continue to persist that then also align with the continued existence of large space based telescopes. And that whole had to be created for Hubble that didn't exist then that then they could leverage for institutional support going forward through James Webb.

Robert Smith: And I think also the Goddard Space Flight Center was very enthusiastic about a successor to Hubble. The Goddard Space Flight Center is very close to the Space Telescope Science Institute, also a key factor. And again, there are these what you might call these broad structural factors, but there's a contingency in that you have as a Maryland Senator, Senator Barbara Mikulski, who was extremely influential in the Senate.

Robert Smith: And she has a very strong interest, or had a very strong interest in science, she retired a few years ago, but she had a very strong interest in science was really keen on Hubble. She famously called Hubble a techno Turkey in 1990, but then really went out to bat for it. So she's beating them up in public, but really working her socks off in private to keep support going for Hubble. And she's enthusiastic about the successor to Hubble.

Casey Dreier: But also connected to those institutions being in her home state of Maryland. Right?

Robert Smith: Exactly.

Casey Dreier: So there's this the institutions and the people exist there to be protected as well to just honestly enthusiastic. But yeah, there's a political reason that matches up, aligns with that well.

Robert Smith: Exactly. Whereas if we were looking at the mid '70s in terms of Hubble, then some of the key figures at that point, the battles were mainly fought in the House of Representatives. So some of the key figures were actually directly opposed to Hubble, whereas within the mid '90s, and then later you don't have anybody standing up and banging on their desk saying, "We should never proceed with the James Webb Space Telescope." And so, the political landscape you can say is somewhat different from what it had been in the 1970s.

Casey Dreier: To your metaphor, the door was open. Politically Mikulski helps open that door a bit wider, perhaps for more ambitious, but also I was surprised to see Dan Goldin, the administrator of NASA, open that door, or kick it open even a bit wider in '96, when he addressed the American Astronautical Society in response to this Dressler committee report saying, "Let's do a four meter infrared telescope." He said, "Maybe think bigger."

Robert Smith: Yes. And that's the key moment. He gives his speech to the American Astronomical Society. He gets a standing ovation. I'm not sure that's common for NASA administrators.

Casey Dreier: I don't think so.

Robert Smith: And already, by the time he's giving his speech, there's a study contract set up for this successor to Hubble and it's being led the Goddard Space Flight Center by John Mather who would go on to win the Nobel Prize. And he's still the project scientist for the project. So things were starting to move as a result of the Dressler committee report, which had shifted the planning from what had been, okay, we're going to build a successor to Hubble so we'll build basically a lot bigger Hubble, but it's going to be infrared, but optical UV as well.

Casey Dreier: So a much wider spectrum of wavelengths to detect is the original conception?

Robert Smith: That's right. When you have a conference, for example, in 1989 at the Space Telescope Science Institute called the Next Generation Space Telescope, and that's even before Hubble is launched, there'd been efforts at the Institute in the 1980s, actually looking at what might be feasible in terms of a successor to Hubble. The difficulty with that conception is it just seems so extraordinarily expensive.

Robert Smith: How can we possibly do this? And if you look at some of the power laws that astronomists were using at that point to predict the cost based on the diameter of the primary mirror, you end up with literally astronomical numbers, which were just not going to work because also I think an important context for us is where in this post Cold War era, the 1990s turns out to be a very difficult decade because the Cold War's ended what happens to science funding now?

Robert Smith: And so, it's very challenging for NASA in the 1990s in many respects. So there's this decision, and this is driven, I think by the Dressler committee to focus on an infrared telescope. And there'd also been a lot of work in Europe, a group in particular the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, who were looking at different ways to do infrared astronomy and in particular, a notion called passive cooling where you don't really need to put your telescope inside a spacecraft full of cryogen, but you let the spacecraft cool down in a passive manner, which is effectively what Webb is doing.

Casey Dreier: Just much less complex and much less weight involved. Much simpler to do, basically, more enabling in terms of technology is what passive cooling would allow you to do for-

Robert Smith: And you can have much bigger mirrors plus you have primary [inaudible 00:52:10], because you haven't got to put your telescope inside this enormous doer in effect. That is also a very important moment. And so you have that coming together with the realization that look, if we try and do what would later be called a LUVOIR telescope where you've got optical, ultraviolet and infrared, that is just going to be prohibitively expensive for us. And so, the planning settles on an infrared telescope, it's being strongly supported within NASA, but again, you still have concerns about cost just because we are into this Cold War context.

Casey Dreier: NASA's budget stepped down, starting in the mid '90s every year for many years at that point. And this was the era of better, faster, cheaper, specifically reformulating NASA to do smaller missions more frequently that have higher risk and if you lose one that's tough, but you can continue. It's not the big black eye that that Hubble was for example. Something I just wanted to just make sure we hit on, I think this is a really interesting classic, this intersection of new technology with the scientific capability or interest.

Casey Dreier: So you had this, the call committee saying, infrared's going to be this big era of the '90s, this is an era of astronomy that needs more attention and can reveal all these things, we just cannot literally see without these specific types of detectors paired with advances in infrared detectors. And advances in passive cooling. And so the technology also opens this door up. There had to be this separate technological evolution that could be paired with this in order to make it fit within this politically willing area of funding or resources available for it, it seems like.

Robert Smith: Right. And I think the Bacall committee doesn't, as far as I remember, actually talk about passive calling, but it certainly refers to the decade-

Casey Dreier: Yeah. Setting up the scientific context to help, which then is justifies it by saying it helps close, or it seems to help bound the potentials of what you were saying in terms of really build another Hubble that's just bigger. No, it actually seems to be scientifically more compelling to focus on this range of infrared wavelengths because of perhaps of what Bacall committee set out prior to that in terms of what the decades interest is going to be.

Robert Smith: Right. And so you've got these exciting developments with infrared detectors, which a lot of money have been spent on infrared detectors for the Star Wars program, for example. And so, if you have an infrared satellite looking down at the earth and you want to find well where the signatures of ballistic missiles in the infrared well they're between one and five microns.

Robert Smith: And so, I don't think it's a great surprise that initially the idea is that Webb or what becomes called Webb is going to operate between one and five microns, because you've got these terrific detectors much better than other regions of the infrared. So, that is also playing a factor, I think.

Casey Dreier: This really goes to your point of this coalition building process, of how are you assembling a big enough community to pursue something as ambitious as this Next Generation Space Telescope you're using these, Bacall committees saying infrared's important, you're using the technological capability to show cost, but also engage that area of this new astronomy opening up.

Casey Dreier: And also to your point, astronomers themselves are becoming much more flexible within their wavelengths about what they can study and not. So there's these multiple threads coming together to build a large enough coalition to say, "This should be the path forward." I don't know if I've ever in my, that I'm aware of seen a NASA administrator say that the scientific astronomy is thinking too small. And this is unique. This really amazing moment again by Dan Goldin, which we already talked about, but it's worth dwelling on a bit.

Casey Dreier: It's so interesting to me because he was doing precisely the opposite. It strikes me every other place in NASA with better, faster, cheaper. Why would he go out and say, let's make it bigger and obviously more expensive and complicated that will slow things down. It's the opposite of his philosophy. Was it in the spur of the moment? Was he just excited about space telescopes? Do you have any insight into what prompted him to do that? Because the scientific community took him seriously and up to the size of Webb as a consequence.

Robert Smith: That's right. I think he was still urging them to be bold, ambitious throw away the concept of Hubble, which he saw as basically a ground-based telescope sent into space, this large slab of glass. I think he refers to, you don't have to do that you can lightweight the mirrors and so on.

Robert Smith: And it's also worth remembering Goldin's background, which was formally he'd been a manager at TRW and he knew a lot about what sorts of things they've been sending into space. And it's worthwhile remembering that initially who's going to manufacture the great bulk of James Webb. It is TRW before it gets taken over by Northrop Grumman.

Robert Smith: And so, there's institutional memory, I think in play for Goldin about the things he'd seen. And he'd also, there was a mirror at TRW that was a deployable example. And so, he was aware of things to do with large mirrors in space, I think, or large deployable elements of spacecraft that TRW had been involved with earlier. And so, I think he's wanting them to reduce cost by thinking less conservatively. So, he's still urging them to keep the cost down. He's not saying, "Oh, you can have 5 billion. That's great. Go away."

Robert Smith: He's saying, "You got to bring the cost down. But one way to bring the cost down is to think more ambitiously, lightweight the mirrors, don't have these big slabs of glass, maybe you can do it in segments," those kinds of things. So, I don't think he's being contradictory in that sense, but what I think is important is a faster, better cheap, but then sets the context for James Webb. And so you can, I think reasonably say, okay, well it frames how James Webb is going to be approached, which will end up pushing the costs much higher

Casey Dreier: Initially, and they get into a lot of trouble now in terms of how the cost estimates have increased over time for Webb. But it really seemed to be conceived as this anti Hubble in terms of how they would pursue it, how much it would cost. They had these somewhat artificial self understood cost limits of $800 million initially, or, or $1.2 billion, these very low numbers that they felt was politically feasible they being folks in the scientific community, defining this project that ultimately obviously were completely unrealistic.

Casey Dreier: Those weren't necessarily nefarious or Machiavellian structurings of these things, they were definitely reacting to the Hubble. What were they trying to learn from the Hubble at this point and apply to this Next Generation Space Telescope that they wanted to avoid specifically?

Robert Smith: Well, for example, the use of the shuttle, that was clearly immensely beneficial to Hubble because it would've been pretty much an embarrassing flop if it had been launched in 1990 and there was no way to tackle the problem as fair collaboration. But the shuttle was extremely expensive, billion dollars a launch. And so if you go up and do upgrades, repair work on Hubble, even at one point, the idea was every so often the Hubble will be brought to the ground refurbishment relaunched. Well, that plan doesn't really last that long.

Robert Smith: So, using the shuttle is seen as just too expensive, an option. So we will get rid of the shuttle. Also, we are looking at thermal environment. If we have a large infrared telescope, and you are orbiting the earth, then it maybe not the best thing for it in terms of fluctuating temperatures, let's go send it beyond the moon then looks a very option. And it's been where infrared observatories like Herschel and [inaudible 01:00:47] have also gone.

Robert Smith: And so that, that makes a lot of sense. It's going to have lightweight mirrors. It's not going to have this big slab of glass. Dan Goldin would refer to it, we are going to do things very differently. I think you're quite right to refer as initially as anti Hubble, because you are demonstrating, you're going to cost a lot less than Hubble costs. We can save money compared to what was going on with Hubble, because we are going to adopt these different measures here.

Casey Dreier: You followed the project very closely the last 20 years, what went wrong? How did that go wrong so fast, did it seem like to you? Was there a few key things that happened at the beginning that set them on this path to costing just as much, if not more than the Hubble Space Telescope?

Robert Smith: I think it's always tricky to figure those things in that, what you might say is that the early numbers have a very big influence on the development of the project. Because if you start low, then the reserves you have available are going to be low. And so on a big project where you're pushing the state of the art in lots of different areas, you would, I think, want to have very substantial reserves, because you know you're going to have problems, however much work you've done in terms of technology development before you are seriously constructing stuff.

Robert Smith: That low initial cost then puts pressure on the reserves, which are just not adequate. And so, if you can't do the work that you want to do in a rational fashion, then work gets pushed into future years and you end up if you're not careful and I think this happened with JWST, you end up with what is called a bow wave where you're pushing stuff off into the future but at some point you're going to have a bit of a crash as a result of that.

Casey Dreier: And the same thing happened with Hubble, almost the same thing. They was under costed at the beginning so they started pushing work off into the future. They were actually putting some of their contractors on hold altogether. And then they had had this big crisis in 1983 of having to deal with the consequence of that. Just in similar ways to some degree that we had with JWST in 2010. And so, ironically it started out as the anti Hubble then became the Hubble as a consequence of that approach.

Robert Smith: That's right. And I think also another structural issue is just how the budget is decided on this yearly basis. And again, what can happen and I think has happened with James Webb is if you have a big project that is getting a large amount of funding, it can become almost a bank for smaller projects, which may have run into problems.

Robert Smith: So, okay, how do you solve this set of problems with this smaller project? Okay. We will take it away from James Webb this year. And at some future point, we'll try and fix that, but you take money away. And so, that compounds the difficulties. Also, there's a preference with the office of management and budget to give flat amounts of money over a certain period.

Robert Smith: Whereas the reality with a big array space project is you have a different funding profile where your costs are going to rise and then hopefully fall in a fairly expeditious manner, but you have a cost rising and falling, but if you then flatten out the budget, you are not following that kind of a profile. So, that puts extra on. So, if you are able to give the project manager the money, the project manager needs each year, you would end up with a different profile, I think, but that also affects the overall cost.

Robert Smith: And so, I think there are a number of factors. Plus also some of the areas where there was effort to mitigate risk early. Some of that risk actually came back, it had not been fully mitigated you could say. So, it's a range of different factors, but I would see certainly the low initial cost early on in the project, people are enthusiastic. Okay, we can do this for this amount of money, or at least some of them can believe that this is what we are going to aim at. And a low amount initially is going to build problems all the way through the program.

Casey Dreier: How precarious of a situation was the project in 2010, 2011 politically? Were you personally thinking that they may not make it out of this alive funding wise?

Robert Smith: I think if say Barbara Mikulski had had a heart attack in 2011, and she couldn't return to the Senate for six months or something, it would've been extremely dangerous. As it was, it was dangerous. Anytime you get zeroed out by committee in the Congress, it is dangerous.

Robert Smith: And so it required a lot of effort. And also the publicity that Webb got at that point was generally very negative. There's a famous story in nature, the telescope that a to astronomy, for example. And once you get pegged in that fashion, get framed in that fashion, it is then very dangerous because it means you're more vulnerable if something happens in the future.

Casey Dreier: It also seems like you're vulnerable to the politics of the moment. That was the initial peak of the tea party taking over Congress and which were defining themselves on cutting spending. And it reminded me also of when we were talking about the Superconducting Super Collider in early '90s, that was also an era of cutting spending, big projects like that seem to be very juicy targets in those moments. And if you can make it through those moments, it seems like a lot of these projects ultimately survive, but sometimes if the politics turn against you, you can be quite vulnerable. And that seemed to be that for the Webb Telescope at that point.

Robert Smith: That's right. And I think, for example, the Superconducting Super Collider was very vulnerable because they had major cost overruns. And it's the period when you have Ross Perot banging on about the deficit, for example, gained a lot of concern about the deficit in the Congress. And here's a big visible project that you can demonstrate you are dealing with the deficit by killing it.

Robert Smith: And so it is very dangerous, but I think one of the things that was very positive for Webb is that the work on the technologies was going well. So it wasn't as if, oh, we don't know how to deal with this particular technical problem. It was, I think more we are just behind rather than how the heck do we do this? No, this bit of the telescope, we really don't know what's going on. And so the reports on the technical progress were very positive. And so that was, I think, a key factor for Webb.

Casey Dreier: It also seemed to be that after it survived that political crisis, it was that much stronger. It felt like it was untouchable after it survived that near death political moment. Because I remember during the across the board budget cuts of sequestration in 2013 Webb was spared those cuts and they shifted it to other programs. And every year after that Congress gave exactly what NASA asks for Webb. Even when NASA came back hat in hand in 2018, 2019 and asked for another $800 million to finish the project. Is there a value sometimes? Is that forged that enduring coalition, those near death political moments, does that make them ultimately stronger and more enduring projects?

Robert Smith: Well, a crisis presents an opportunity. You can fix issues, you can get extra money, you can change the management structure. So, Webb was elevated within NASA, taken out of the astrophysics division and was operating outside of the previous environment that he had been in. So that was, I think, a key move.

Robert Smith: Also just a level of visibility, it in a way had become too big to fail at that point, I think, whereas before it was not really in that state. It had established a very strong coalition. The technical progress again, was very significant. People were not complaining really about the technical progress. I think it was these other factors which NASA then had this opportunity to fix in 2011, 2012.

Casey Dreier: It also seems NASA was really learning from the experience with the Hubble. Or I felt that when again, they went back and asked for more money at the very end to finish it where maybe if Hubble hadn't had that aberration at the beginning, they would've rolled the dice and taken the risk to say, "We think we know what we're doing. We can take a slightly higher risk failure because we just can't stand the political hit."

Casey Dreier: But really, it seemed like the political hit for a failed Hubble was way worse than anyone reading about angry Congress people about additional appropriations for Hubble at the time. So, the lesson was that the symbolic value of a failed mission is way more consequential in a negative sense to NASA than asking for another billion dollars, it seems to me.

Casey Dreier: And I wonder if that drives this, NASA, because they're a national symbol that cannot seem to be failing so it's always going to be worth trying to take the smaller political hit for the money to get that confidence level up to that 0.999% or whatever they can do that. Do you think that was a lesson that they pulled from Hubble? Does that come into play in your perspective here?

Robert Smith: I'm not sure if it's a lesson from Hubble, but certainly it is a sensible way to proceed if you are sitting in NASA headquarters because what are the options? Do you say, "Okay, we just live with this potential technical set of problems and we just launch and keep our fingers crossed."

Robert Smith: Now, it's one thing to do that with Hubble, because you've got the shuttle available, but with James Webb, by the time you've spent $8 billion, does it make an awful lot of difference if you spend another $800 million clearly it's an embarrassing ask, but it is not nearly as embarrassing as having a failed James Webb, which would've been, I think, catastrophic for the agency.

Casey Dreier: I agree. At the end of your book that you published in 1989, you talk about the stresses of big science projects that are essentially pushing the limits of what society is able and willing to pay. You posed this question, should we be doing big science should it be allowed to grow at this expense of little science or smaller projects?

Casey Dreier: That question I had rephrased back to me four months ago when I was talking with some congressional staff about the cost of James Webb Space Telescope. It's been more than 30 years. Do you think there's a clear answer about this balance of these big mega science projects versus small projects? Are we doing the right types of missions here?

Robert Smith: I think that there's more consciousness now again, when we have say the Astro 2020 committee talking about these generational efforts, because how do you keep a project going for that amount of time in order to get some sort of a launch in the 2040s? What does that also say about graduate training? How does that speak to scientific careers? How does that speak to having people involved in the next project that might be a mega project with experience of doing these things?

Robert Smith: Because if it's going to be generational, how many projects does somebody have in their bag as it were in their career? How many can they do? I would say maybe it looks like one and a half, seems to be the going rate at this point. How do you transfer the knowledge of how to do these things? And so, it raises all sorts of issues to think about the scale and how big do you really want to go?

Robert Smith: How complex do you want to go? How much risk do you want to take? Because, I think one of the things I would say with these lines of development, when you've got really big projects, I would say it is a fragile line, because it is not that hard to conceive of a really big flagship mission failing. We almost had that with Hubble, for example. And then what? Because it is politically devastating.

Casey Dreier: Thankfully JWST seems to be working, but that was a nail biting couple of weeks during deployment. Right?

Robert Smith: That's right.

Casey Dreier: And the costs again, even to make sure that you have that high mission assurance as I was pointing out, just become very high. And so you have some lessons you've talked about in terms of mega projects. I just wanted to touch on because this is broader than JWSt, it looks like NASA may be willing to start on the next one, this, maybe we'll finally get that super Hubble [inaudible 01:15:18] planet finding telescope for 2045.

Robert Smith: Yes.

Casey Dreier: What are some of the key lessons do you think the scientific community and the space advocate community needs to keep in mind for pursuing these types of mega projects? And we can set aside these challenges of the fundamental issue that they happen very infrequently. And there's a lot of risk inherent in a single point of failure, but how do you sustain them? How do you design these to succeed from your experience?

Robert Smith: Well, I actually gave a talk to the people who were working on what was then the Next Generation Space Telescope in 1997. And talking about lessons from Hubble, my first lesson is you've got to have a realistic cost when you start, don't buy in. I think I have on my index card from that talk. And I think that is an absolutely fundamental point that the project has to be initiated with a realistic budget. I think that is going to drive so much of what happens later on in the project.

Robert Smith: Now, that is clearly difficult if you're doing something so complex, so new, but it's clearly something again that the people working on the Astro 2020 recommendations were grappling with as well, because they are bending over backwards to talk about technology development and those kinds of things in order to come up with a realistic number so that by the time you are really going ahead and building your planet finder, then you've got a number you can reasonably rely on and have adequate reserves available for the things you are not aware of at the time.

Robert Smith: And so, I would say initiating a project with an adequate budget is absolutely key. And then this process of coalition building, I think is fundamental. You've got to establish a coalition, which means convincing people of the world of the scientific case. That is key. So, there has to be a lot of groundwork done I think to establish that here is a really important project that is going to be worth expending money. It's worth it for the scientists involved to be expending lots of their career working on, and at the same time, if you can do that, I think it means you've got the potential for a better balance. And you don't end up with headlines like the telescope that age astronomy.

Casey Dreier: Well, hopefully they will listen to you the next time around on some of these key points, but I'm sure like me, you are grateful and excited to see this mission move forward and having followed it so closely over the years. So Dr. Smith, I want to thank you so much for joining us today on the Space Policy Edition. And we will check in with you sometime after the first round of scientific images, maybe coming down from the Webb Space Telescope as we look towards the future.

Robert Smith: That's right. I'm an old Hubble hand so I want to see the first scientific results before I get really excited, but it-

Casey Dreier: Temporary, that's good. We'll protect ourselves emotionally and make sure that we get those images down before we count our chickens. Thank you again, Dr. Smith. I appreciate you joining us today.

Robert Smith: My pleasure.

Mat Kaplan: Dr. and Professor Robert Smith, talking with my colleague, Casey Dreier the senior Space policy advisor for The Planetary Society, a delightful conversation. And Casey, I will inject once again, I actually think of this conversation that you've had as a book ending, the conversation that I had with John Mather, which is on the weekly Planetary Radio this week. Really between the two of them absolutely fascinating material on this topic of the James Webb Space Telescope and more broadly big science.

Casey Dreier: Absolutely. Yeah. It was a delight to speak with him. And again, we're just waiting now for the full commissioning of the space telescope. And as many people have reminded us, it ain't a telescope yet until we get those first clear images down as the many harsh lessons we've learned over the years, everything seems to be going good so far. So, we will continue to patiently wait. And I cannot wait to see the first live pictures coming down sometime in the middle of the year.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, we will need to wait a month before you and I talk again on the Space Policy Edition. Of course, I look forward to you coming on the weekly show if something comes up that we need to talk about, thanks for the great work and good luck with the Day of Action.

Casey Dreier: Thank you, Mat. Looking forward to it.

Mat Kaplan: Once again, that's Casey Dreier, senior space policy advisor, and chief advocate for The Planetary Society. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio. As always, I hope that you will join us every week and on the first Friday in March for the next Space Policy Edition. Ad astra.