I recently came across an article in Popular Magazine discussing two NASA projects that had recently been thrown by the wayside due to budget constraints; big surprise. Usually, I’m disappointed when I hear that technology, whose purpose is to help expand our knowledge of our universe, is going to be discontinued or not built at all. However, this article discussed a particular instrument that just seemed too outlandish to be a possibility. LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, would have consisted of three different space telescopes located 3.1 million miles apart. For reference, the average distance to the moon is about 240,000 miles. That’s around one thousand times further.
The purpose of LISA was to detect gravitational waves that are produced when extremely massive objects collide. For example, when two massive black holes collide when two galaxies merge as a result of their gravitational attraction, gravitational waves are created. Although gravitational waves have never been detected, they are predicted in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Unfortunately, LISA will never get her chance since she would have absorbed nearly $1.5 billion of NASA’s investments. LISA was going to be an international project, but since NASA was the primary contributor, this project is as good as dead since they have been given the veto on funding it.
I must admit that finding yet another proof to the theory of general relativity would be very exciting, but I can’t fathom using money to throw a few satellites out in space to measure some gravity waves. Perhaps my conception of this project is too naive to fully appreciate its significance, but I feel that a great deal of knowledge can be achieved despite the lack of these three instruments. Basically, all of NASA’s budget cuts are due to the James Webb Telescope. Similar to a black hole, this second generation of space telescope is sucking all manner of fiscal budgets into its grasp. No doubt, this telescope will be fantastic when it finally reaches its final destination in earth’s orbit, but until then this project is the only large project NASA will be funding for a while, I suspect. Already behind schedule and over budget, this telescope has some big shoes to fill as Hubble’s successor. I just hope it opens the public’s eyes even more to the wonders of our magnificent universe. So, in that regard, I’m alright with Webb getting all of the money, as long as it delivers when the time comes.