The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

New Space Telescope:
An Advance Held up by Capitalism

Dec 6, 2021

On December 22, the U.S. plans to launch a major astronomy telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The rocket will launch from Kourou in French Guyana in South America, still occupied by French troops, with an indigenous population living nearby without water and electricity. But the project is exciting for people interested in space exploration.

JWST’s 21-foot-wide mirror will focus on infrared light from distant, ancient stars. The telescope’s images will help scientists learn how the earliest stars, solar systems, and galaxies formed, and even how life may have developed on distant worlds. This is valuable work.

To keep its mirror frigid enough not to vibrate and blur incoming starlight, JWST will have to stay deep in Earth’s shadow—as it turns out, nearly four times as far from the Earth as the Moon. That’s too remote to fix if anything goes wrong. But military supplier Northrup Grumman, which profits from a so-called cost-plus contract to build and test the telescope, has made numerous errors which caused very expensive delays. The wrong solvent was used to clean valves. Wiring was installed incorrectly. Fastening bolts came loose. The one billion dollar cost estimated when the telescope was first proposed 25 years ago has rocketed to nearly 10 billion dollars now. And Dupont, Bell Aerospace, and Axsys are only some of the other companies profiting from the project!

Under capitalism, exploitation reaches the sky … space exploration, not so much.