The Webb Telescope

On any given day at NASA, I might run into an astronaut or a Senator or maybe even a Nobel Prize winning scientist. This morning, I attended an event at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore which featured all of the above: a former Shuttle astronaut, a United States Senator and not one, but three Nobel Prize winners. But the star of the show was NASA’s Webb Telescope, now in development, which will be the successor to the Hubble Telescope and the most powerful space telescope ever built. The occasion was the ribbon cutting of a new permanent Maryland Science Center exhibit of the Webb Telescope and the viewing of a full-size replica of the Webb which was perched outside the Museum’s front door.

On hand for the ceremony were Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski; Jeff Grant, Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division, the Webb Telescope builder; and John Grunsfeld of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the science operations center for both the Hubble and Webb Telescopes. John is a former NASA astronaut who some have called the “Chief Hubble Repairman” for this three shuttle missions to service the Hubble Telescope.

Also in attendance were three NASA-affiliated Nobel Prize recipients who have played leading roles in the advancement of space telescope science. They are Riccardo Giacconi, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics and the first director of STScI; John Mather, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics who is the Webb Telescope senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Adam Riess, recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and a senior member of STScI. Prior to the event, I was pleased to present Dr. Riess with NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to space science. Dr. Riess used the Hubble Space Telescope to prove the existence of dark energy.

But, again, the real star of the event was the Webb Telescope. It will be 100 times more powerful than Hubble. While Hubble helped rewrite science textbooks as we uncovered vast new areas of knowledge and witnessed phenomena never seen before, Webb will reveal even more of the unknown from its vantage point a million miles above the earth. It will help find the first galaxies that formed the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. And it will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems

As I reminded those in attendance, science remains integral to NASA’s future. In just the past few months, we’ve launched missions to Jupiter and the moon. We’ll launch a new Earth-observing satellite this Friday. And in November, the Curiosity rover will be on its way to Mars.

Those are just a few of NASA’s newest science missions. Many others are already in orbit around the Earth.

It is also important to remember that while these missions occur in space, the investments made, and the jobs created to support these missions, happen right here on Earth.