When the flurry of budget briefings and announcements ended Saturday, it appeared that one large item of scientific hardware had fallen between the chairs of two agencies, jeopardizing a new $10 million telescope in Hawaii.
The infrared telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, built only four years ago and operated the by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was dropped out of the NASA budget, according to director James M. Beggs, "on the assumption that it will be picked up by the National Science Foundation." But over at the NSF, there was no such assumption, a spokesman said. He said NASA had indeed made overtures about sending the telescope over, but finally NSF had refused to include it in its budget. So, suspended briefly between the two agencies, the telescope has now been dropped.
The telescope's designer, Lawrence Randall, who is one of the directors of the NSF's astronomy program, said that odd things sometimes happen when budgets are under pressure.
NASA might be able to fund the telescope, but not the astronomers to look through it, or it might be able to pay the astronomers to use it but not the cost of keeping the facility open. "It doesn't make sense," Randall said, "but that's what happens in this kind of budget situation."
He said he still hopes some way can be worked out between the agencies to fund the telescope, which is the only one of its kind. It was originally built to view the infrared light from Jupiter and Saturn, to look for "hot spots" when the Voyager spacecraft flew by so the craft could aim its cameras at the spots.
As the matter stands now, the telescope will close at the end of this fiscal year unless Congress restores the funds for it.