Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Picture of the Day #2

The High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express has returned images of Echus Chasma, one of the largest water source regions on the Red Planet. Echus Chasma is the source region of Kasei Valles which extends 3000 km to the north. The data was acquired on 25 September 2005. The pictures are centred at about 1° north and 278° east and have a ground resolution of approximately 17 m/pixel.

An impressive cliff, up to 4000 m high, is located in the eastern part of Echus Chasma. Gigantic water falls may once have plunged over these cliffs on to the valley floor. The remarkably smooth valley floor was later flooded by basaltic lava.

Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Picture of the Day #1

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
Shadow of a Martian Robot
Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, JPL, NASA

Explanation: What if you saw your shadow on Mars and it wasn't human? Then you might be the Opportunity rover currently exploring Mars. Opportunity and sister robot Spirit have been probing the red planet since January, finding evidence of ancient water, and sending breathtaking images across the inner Solar System. Pictured above, Opportunity looks opposite the Sun into Endurance Crater and sees its own shadow. Two wheels are visible on the lower left and right, while the floor and walls of the unusual crater are visible in the background. Opportunity is cautiously edging its way into this enigmatic crater, hoping to find new clues into the wet ancient past of our Solar System's second most habitable planet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

IBM: Podcast about James Webb

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

JWST Science Presentation

How does JWST contrast with HST?

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been called the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). But what does this really mean? How will JWST be different than HST? There are some similarities - both telescopes are (or will be) in space. They both seek to improve our understanding of processes like star birth and the evolution of galaxies. However, there are many differences between HST and JWST.

For starters, JWST will primarily look at the Universe in the infrared, while HST studies it at optical and ultra-violet wavelengths. JWST also has a much bigger mirror than HST. This larger light collecting area means that JWST can peer farther back into time than HST is capable of doing. HST is in a very close orbit around the earth, while JWST will be 1.5 million kilometers (km) away at the second Lagrange (L2) point.

Read on to explore some of the details of what these differences mean.


JWST will observe primarily in the infrared and will have four science instruments that can take images and spectra of objects. These instruments will provide wavelength coverage from 0.6 to 28 micrometers (or "microns"; 1 micron is 1.0 x 10-6 meters). The infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum goes from about 0.75 microns to a few hundred microns.. This means that JWST's instruments will work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.

The instruments on HST can observe a small portion of the infrared spectrum from 0.8 to 2.5 microns, but its primary capabilities are in the ultra-violet and visible parts of the spectrum from 0.1 to 0.8 microns.

EM Spectrum and  satellites

Orion  Nebula It is very important to make observations at different wavelengths as we get different information by looking at different wavelength bands. For example, stars and planets that are just forming lie hidden behind cocoons of dust and cannot be seen in visible light. The same is true for the very center of our Galaxy. However, infrared light can penetrate this dusty shroud and reveal what is inside. An example is the image of the Orion Nebula at left that combines Infrared and visible-light data from both the HST and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Orion Nebula Other objects may not emit visible or infrared light and may only emit X-rays. Or different regions of an object might emit light of a different wavelength than another region. We then need a telescope that can detect X-rays. Thus data obtained at different wavelengths can be combined to provide a more complete picture. For example, the image on the left shows the same two patches of sky, as viewed by an X-ray telescope (Chandra), a visible-light telescope (HST), and an infrared telescope (Spitzer). Each observation shows us something different (in this case, scientists were looking for black holes) - but combining these observations can give us a more complete (and more accurate) picture.


size comparison HST is 13.2 meters (43.5 ft.) long and its maximum diameter is 4.2 meters (14 ft.) It is about the size of a large tractor-trailer truck. By contrast, JWST's sunshield is about 22 meters by 12 meters (72 ft x 39 ft). A Boeing 737-200 is 100 feet long!

JWST and Hubble mirror  comparison JWST will have a 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror, which would give it a significant larger collecting area than the mirrors available on the current generation of space telescopes. HST's mirror is a much smaller 2.4 meters in diameter and its corresponding collecting area is 4.5 m2, giving JWST around 7 times more collecting area! JWST will have significantly larger field of view than the NICMOS camera on HST (covering more than ~15 times the area) and significantly better spatial resolution than is available with the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.



The Earth is 150 million km from the Sun and the moon orbits the earth at a distance of approximately 384,500 km.

earth sun distance  graphic

The Hubble Space Telescope orbits around the Earth at an altitude of ~570 km above it.

JWST will not actually orbit the Earth - instead it will sit at the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km away! Because HST is in earth orbit, it was able to be launched into space by the space shuttle. JWST will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket and because it won't be in earth orbit, it is not designed to be serviced by the space shuttle.

HST, JWST distance  graphic

A Lagrange point is one of the five positions in interplanetary space where a small object (like a satellite) can be relatively stationary with respect to two larger objects (like the Earth and the Sun). It is analogous to an earth satellite in a geosynchronous orbit that allows it satellite to stay stationary over one spot on the Earth. At a Lagrange point, a satellite can stay "fixed" in space, rather than orbiting the Earth.

lagrange  diagram JWST will sit at the L2 point, with its solar shield blocking the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon. This is very important as it will help JWST stay cool, which is very important for an infrared telescope. As the Earth orbits the Sun, JWST will orbit with it - but stay fixed in the same spot with relation to the Earth and the Sun, as shown in the diagram to the left.

Why does JWST need to be at L2?

JWST requires a distant orbit for several reasons. JWST will observe primarily the infrared light from faint and very distant objects. But all objects, including telescopes, also emit infrared light. To avoid swamping the very faint astronomical signals with radiation from the telescope, the telescope and its instruments must be very cold (Operating Temperature: under 50 K (-370 deg F)). Therefore, JWST has a large shield that blocks the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, which otherwise would heat up the telescope, and interfere with the observations.

To have this work, JWST must be in an orbit where all three of these objects are in about the same direction. The most convenient point is the second Lagrange point (L2) of the Sun-Earth system, a semi-stable point in the gravitational potential around the Sun and Earth. The L2 point lies outside Earth's orbit while it is going around the Sun, keeping all three in a line at all times. The combined gravitational forces of the Sun and the Earth can almost hold a spacecraft at this point, and it takes relatively little rocket thrust to keep the spacecraft near L2. The cold and stable temperature environment of the L2 point will allow JWST to make the very sensitive infrared observations needed.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Unfolds by Animation

Still from animation
> View streaming Windows Media Viewer animation
Credit: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

Still from animation
> View streaming Windows Media Viewer animation
Credit: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

Artist's rendition of the James Webb Space Telescope
>View larger image
Credit: NASA

Although engineers, scientists and manufacturers are still in the process of building all of the instruments that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, they had to figure out long ago, how it was going to "unfold" in space. That's because the Webb Telescope is so big that it has to be folded up for launch. Now, animators have made that "unfolding" come to life in two new videos.

A brand new animation of how NASA's massive next-generation space telescope will open up in space once it achieves orbit, was created by the Image center at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Redondo Beach, Calif. The Webb Telescope is roughly 65 feet (21 meters) from end to end and about 3 stories high.

"Animation helps designers and their colleagues to fully visualize and explain the complex motions required to deploy this observatory," said Mike Herriage, Webb Telescope Deputy Program Manager at Northrop Grumman. "And while it’s a visual tool, producing accurate animation is a technical challenge as well."

The James Webb Space Telescope is a large, infrared space telescope. It will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. It will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System.

The Webb Telescope is extremely large and cannot fit in a rocket unless it is folded. It has a sunshield the size of a tennis court and an 18-segment mirror that looks like a honeycomb. Because of its large size, the telescope needs to be folded up to fit in the rocket. The sunshield will be compactly folded, much like a parachute, around the front and back of the telescope. The mirror segments are mounted on the "spine" or backplane of the telescope and the segments on the left and right sides of the honeycomb shape are folded in the rocket.

Once the Webb telescope is on its way to its final orbit, approximately 1 million miles from the Earth, engineers at Northrop Grumman will issue commands to the Webb Telescope to unfold it. "Think of the sunshield as five candy wrappers the size of a tennis court," said Mark Clampin, Webb Telescope Observatory Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The animation shows the first part of the telescope to unfold is the solar panel, followed by the communications antenna. Next, the five layers of sunshield will drop into place from the front and back, spread out into a kite shape. The "secondary mirror support structure," an arm-like feature holding the secondary mirror assembly will then drop down from its folded center perch, and finally, the side mirror segments will be moved forward to form the complete "honeycomb."

"There are videos showing a simple deployment and a version that includes detailed views of key points in the sequence," Clampin said. "There are 2 and 4 megabyte versions of each video and they are high definition."

James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Cosmic Quest at the Canada Science and Technology Museum


20th May || 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Eastern time)


Canada Science and Technology Museum

1867 St Laurent Blvd

Ottawa, Ontario, K1G 5A3

Senior Project Scientist for JWST (and Nobel Prize winner) John Mather is going to be giving a public talk in Ottawa at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on May 20th.

Cosmic Quest at the Canada Science and Technology Museum

Discover the Universe: Celebrate the International Year of Astronomy!

Discover the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope, at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. In the daytime, meet Canadian Space Agency's team and try a series of interactive games and activities to learn more about the science behind JWST. Find out how Canada is part of this exciting new space observatory, which will be launched in 2013.

In the evening, join JWST scientists for two special presentations on JWST. Nobel Prize winner, John Mather, will kick off the evening with his presentation entitled "From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and the James Webb Telescope." Canadian scientist René Doyon, named Scientist of the Year by Radio-Canada, will follow with « À la recherche de nouveaux mondes » (The Search for New Worlds), in French. End the evening on a starry note by taking a planetarium show, or by heading outside for a star party (weather permitting). Astronomy experts will be available to answer all your stellar questions!

** All evening activities are free of charge. For daytime activities, regular Museum admission fees apply.

See the complete program.


Canada Science and Technology Museum
James Webb Space Telescope

A Model Home For NASA's New Space Telescope

NASA commissioned construction of an environmental simulation test chamber which was completed in 1964 at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. The facility, Chamber A, was invaluable for testing spacecraft and satellites before deployment to space. By testing spacecraft in an environment similar to the one they would be functioning in, potential problems could be addressed before launch.

A new addition to NASA's observatory inventory is called the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), after a former Administrator of NASA. The new telescope will have seven times the mirror area of the Hubble, with a target destination approximately one million miles from earth. Scheduled for launch in 2013, the JWST will allow scientists the ability to see, for the first time, the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe. Pre-launch testing of JWST must be performed in environments that approximate its final target space environment as closely as possible.

The Commission
JSC's Chamber A will require modifications to accommodate testing of the JWST. Some of these changes involve upgrades to cryogenic, vacuum pumping, and structural elements. To accomplish this, JSC presented a need for a 3-D model of the chamber and the surrounding area in its current state. This effort will provide engineers an accurate facility representation to be used in identifying and correcting any conflicts in upgrade design and installation.

To accomplish such a feat, NASA looked to Houston engineering firm, Taylor and Hill, Inc., who has been providing engineering services to the oil, gas, chemicals and power industries since 1974. The firm qualified as a category finalist in the Houston Business Roundtable award for "Outstanding Safety Performance" for 2003 and 2004 and received previous awards for outstanding safety leadership from BP South Houston in 1996, 1997, and 1999.

The project scope entailed scanning and modeling all eight levels, two large staging areas, two mechanical rooms and liquid nitrogen piping and storage tanks comprising the chamber and the area surrounding it.

"We were hired to identify the major obstructions, clearances and open areas surrounding the test chamber," noted Glen Kearns, Taylor & Hill's Laser Scanning Department Manager and Project Manager over this job.

The information would be used to facilitate the planning of new piping, electrical conduit runs, cable trays and equipment upgrades for the 118ft. tall chamber.

The project was marked high priority status by NASA, and therefore the measurements had to be completed in a timely manner. Construction and maintenance had already begun, which meant Taylor & Hill would be operating within a confined workspace.

Conventionally, engineers would gather the necessary data by using tape measures, photographs, and written notes to generate 2-D drawings. This would have been quite time consuming, obtrusive and open to error. "There would have always been the risk of overlooking something," Kearns stated.

Technology Suited for the Job
Taylor & Hill employed a method known as Laser Scanning Metrology (LSM) to gather all the necessary measurements. LSM involves using high-speed computer-aided laser scanners to generate high-accuracy measurements that are digitally recorded for 2-D and 3-D modeling, inspection, visualization or reverse engineering. The practice has been useful for a variety of applications, ranging from documenting as-is conditions for accident reconstruction or building renovations to reverse engineering boat hulls to virtual asset management of power facilities.

Using the Laser Scanner LS from FARO Technologies, and a combination of modeling and CAD softwares, Rito Morales and Don Meyer of Taylor & Hill produced the requested deliverables ahead of schedule.

FARO's Laser Scanner LS operates via phase shift technology by emitting a beam from the instrument's laser sensor to a vertical mirror. The beam is then deflected onto the object or environment being scanned. This includes full horizontal 360 degree coverage and vertical 320 degree coverage within a distance of 76m (249ft.). Finally, the beam is diverted back to the laser scanner and the distance coordinates are digitally recorded via angular encoders that measure the rotation of the vertical mirror and horizontal axis of the laser scanner. These X, Y Z coordinates are computed at a rate of nearly 120,000 points per second. A scan at minimal resolution can be completed in less than a minute.

"The speed at which the data was collected with FARO's phase-based scanner is a major consideration," Kearns observed. "Traditional methods would have taken several weeks or months to collect the data we gathered in about ten days of scanning."

The resulting points produce a high resolution picture-quality image with a major advantage­the data is represented in 3-D. The image, also known as a point cloud, contains all the scanned coordinates. This allows operators not only to have an accurate representation of the physical appearances of the scanned items, but also to obtain useful measurements for inspection, analysis and modeling.

Taylor & Hill produced more than 170 point clouds from the data collected throughout the 10 days on the job site. Off-site, all laser scans were registered using FARO Scene point cloud software to a building coordinate system established through dimensional control.

From the registered point clouds, 3-D solid models were developed through INOVx 3-D PlantLINx® showing objects outside of the chamber: floors, columns, major equipment and large diameter piping. They also furnished a detailed model of the steel that makes up the roof structure. The 3-D model was then exported into AutoCAD where final presentation visuals were added. Surface finishes were applied and rendered images were generated complete with lights and shadows.

"Contractors responsible for the upgrades are now aware of the obstacles that may impede their plans," stated Kearns.

Software Focus
FARO Scene is a high-performance and practical 3-D point cloud software tool designed for viewing, administrating and working on 3-D scan points from high-resolution 3-D laser scanners. This tool allows the user to manipulate raw 3-D scan points and acquire with analysis functions initial point-cloud data comprehension. Through data analysis and manipulation, scan points may be prepared for export into the user's operating platform as targets (.cor), scan points (.dxf, VRML, .igs, .pts, .ptx, .ptc), CAD objects (.igs, .dxf) or scan pictures (.jpg).

FARO Scene features:
• Measures distances between objects
• Completes point cloud filtering, compression, noise reduction and registration
• Analyzes CAD models against point clouds to recognize collisions and deviations
• Models basic graphical objects such as planes, spheres, and cylinders from point clouds

3-D PlantLINx converts the output of laser scanning and survey data into accurate 3-D models of existing plants. This is achieved through the creation of physical databases consisting of analysis of laser scans, stereo photos and survey points captured during field data collection utilizing automated surface modeling or assisted primitive modeling. Based on the level of detail required for a specific project, 3-D PlantLINx databases can be composed of conceptual, single revamp, major revamp or intelligent models.

3-D PlantLINx features:
• Processes laser images from most major laser scanning systems
• Rapid access to logical and complete regions of points
• Ability to customize or use industry standardized specifications for selected piping, structural steel and electrical elements
• User Defined customizable catalogs for complex assemblies, such as pumps, vessels, platforms, portable equipment, etc.
• Assisted 3-D modeling enables rapid creation of complete and accurate CAD geometry, including entire piping systems
• Structures 3-D models into userdefined conventions such as P&ID
• Roll based with optional concurrent user database access for increased modeling and QA/QC efficiency

Rito Morales is the CAD Support and Laser Scanning Specialist for Taylor & Hill, Inc. based in Houston, Texas. He has seven years of field experience with laser data collection in the petrochemical industry. A 1.956Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

James Webb Space Telescope First Flight Mirror Completes Cryogenic Testing

The first mirror segment that will fly on the James Webb Space Telescope, built by Northrop Grumman Corporation, has completed its first series of cryogenic temperature tests in the X-ray and Cryogenic Facility at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"We’re excited that we can support the James Webb Space Telescope with our world class cryogenic and x-ray telescope test facility," said Helen Cole, project manager for the Webb Telescope activities at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "The test performed here are crucial to the success of the program since they’ll ensure the mirrors and components will be able to withstand the extreme cold temperatures of space."

The mirror segment is the first of 18 flight mirror segments that will be joined to make a giant, 6.5-meter diameter (21.3 ft.) hexagonal mirror. The segments will be subject to temperatures of -414 degrees Fahrenheit in a 7,600 cubic-foot helium-cooled vacuum chamber at NASA Marshall.

Engineers will measure how the mirror changes shape going from room temperature to cryogenic (frigid) temperatures, as the metal expands and contracts. They can model these changes to some extent, but not perfectly. The mirrors will be polished to about 100 nanometers (a human hair is approximately 60,000 to 120,000 nanometers) accuracy at room temperature, based on the expected changes. Then it will be cooled down to cryogenic temperatures and engineers will measure the mirror's surface, creating a "hit map" of unexpected changes.

"This is what we have done so far with the first flight mirror segment," said Jonathan Gardner, Webb Telescope Deputy Project Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "Now, engineers will warm it up and polish out the "hit map" areas to get the mirror to 20 nanometer accuracy - a process which will take months. The mirrors will then be brought back down to cryogenic temperatures to verify the increased accuracy." In addition to this testing, engineers also did some "cryo cycling." That means going up and down in temperature (without polishing in between) to test the repeatability of the changes.

Since there are 18 mirror segments, each measuring about 1.5 meters (4.9 ft.) in diameter, they will be tested in batches of six and chilled to cryogenic temperatures four times in a six-week time span. It takes approximately five days to cool a mirror segment to cryogenic temperatures. All flight mirror tests are expected to be completed in June 2011. The Webb telescope is scheduled for launch in 2013.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the Webb telescope, leading a design and development team under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

"It has taken years of intense effort for the Webb Telescope team to begin flight mirror cryotesting and we’re gratified that testing was successful," said Martin Mohan, Webb telescope program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector, Redondo Beach, Calif. "Along the way, we’ve had to invent entire manufacturing and measurement processes because no one has ever built a telescope this large that has to operate at temperatures this extreme."

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation premier space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The Webb Telescope will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.

JWST Instruments

The JWST instrument suite will consist of three science instruments. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST will be in a second Lagrange point orbit and will not be serviceable. Therefore, these will be the only instruments JWST will ever have.

JWST Science Instruments

MIRI Mid Infrared Instrument
NIRCam Near Infrared Camera
NIRSpec Near Infrared Spectrograph
FGS-TFI Fine Guidance Sensor Tunable Filter Imager

Supporting Hardware

ISIM Integrated Science Instrument Module
Guider Fine Guidance Sensor

JWST Science Goal

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a key element in NASA's Origins program, which has the goal of understanding the formation of galaxies, stars, planets and ultimately, life. JWST is specifically designed for discovering and understanding the formation of the first stars and galaxies, measuring the geometry of the Universe and the distribution of dark matter, investigating the evolution of galaxies and the production of elements by stars, and the process of star and planet formation. This is a document from JWST project website at NASA/Goddard describing the basic science objectives of JWST (pdf).

JWSTSite gives a down-to-earth descriptions (without the astronomy jargon) of JWST science.
A more scientific description can be found at the JWST Science Goals web pages of the Goddard JWST Project Center.
The NGST Ad Hoc Science Working Group developed the Design Reference Mission (DRM), a large number of observing programs to identify the core science program for the JWST. The DRM is used to guide telescope, instrument, and satellite designs.

The NGST Ad Hoc Science Working Group created in 1999 the Design Reference Mission (DRM), a set of hypothetical observing programs identifying a core science program for the JWST. Associated with these observing programs, a suite of potential astronomical targets were identified, each with their expected physical properties (number density and brightness) and desired observation modes (wavelength band, spectral resolution, number of revisits). Using the JWST Mission Simulator (JMS) each possible JWST design is tested for accomplishing the most number of DRM goals within the allotted time and budget.

JWST Project History

The links below provide the history of the conception and development of JWST thus far. These pages are partly based on a presentation given by Peter Stockman (JWST/STScI Project Scientist) at the 2001 Hubble Fellows Symposium.

Prior to September 10, 2002, the JWST was known as the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). In the pages below we will reference the name of the observatory that was in use at the time of a given milestone.

  • 1989-1994 Conception, the early years
  • 1995-1996 Stepping up the bid, going for 8 meters
  • 1997-2001 Reality hits, re-scope to 6m
  • 2002 Selecting the partners
  • 2003-2004 Working on the Detailed Design
  • 2005 The First Major Reviews and a Financial Shock
  • 2006 Back on Track
  • 2007 Approaching Preliminary Design Review

JWST Design: The key elements of the Observatory

This Northrop Grumman SPIE article from Nov 2002 describes in more detail the selected architecture, its expected performance and the plans for integration and testing. Even though many details in the design have changed since the article was written, many of the design choices and procedures are still valid.



  • Near-IR and visible camera
  • Sensitive over the 0.6-5 micron wavelength range
  • Two broad- and intermediate-band imaging modules, each with a 2.2 x 2.2 arcmin field of view
  • Each imaging module has two channels, with light split by a dichroic at ~2.35 micron
  • Short wavelength channel 0.0317" pixels, long wavelength channel 0.0648" pixels
  • Each module has coronagraphic capabilities
  • Multi-object dispersive spectrograph (MOS)
  • Sensitive over the 1-5 micron wavelength range
  • 3.4' x 3.4' field of view
  • ~0.1" pixels in the detector plane
  • R=1000 MOS Mode, 3 gratings cover 1.0-5.0 micron
  • R=2700 Integral Field Unit and Long-slit Modes
  • R=100 Prism, 0.6-5.0 mm in one exposure
  • Capable of observing more than 100 objects simultaneously using Multi-Shutter Assembly (developed by GSFC) with addressable 0.2 x 0.46 arcsec shutters

  • Mid-IR camera and Integral Field Unit (IFU) and long-slit spectrograph
  • Sensitive over the 5-28 micron wavelength range
  • 1.88' x 1.27' field of view imaging, 12 filters
  • 3" x 3" IFU R=3000 spectrograph, in 5-10 and 10-27 micron channels
  • R=100 long-slit 5-10 micron spectrograph
  • Coronagraphic capabilities
  • Fine Guidance System
  • Enable stable pointing at the milli-arcsecond level
  • Sensitivity and field of view to allow guiding with 95% probability at any point on the sky (i.e. 95% at the galactic poles, better at most other places)
  • Tunable Filter Imager has one 2.2 x 2.2 arcmin field of view and selectable R~100 between 1.5-5.0 microns

The Legend Behind the Name

portrait of James Webb

The man whose name NASA has chosen to bestow upon the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is most commonly linked to the Apollo moon program, not to science.

Yet, many believe that James E. Webb, who ran the fledgling space agency from February 1961 to October 1968, did more for science than perhaps any other government official and that it is only fitting that the Next Generation Space Telescope would be named after him.

A Balanced Program

Webb's record of support for space science would support those views. Although President John Kennedy had committed the nation to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Webb believed that the space program was more than a political race. He believed that NASA had to strike a balance between human space flight and science because such a combination would serve as a catalyst for strengthening the nation's universities and aerospace industry.

As part of an oral history project sponsored by the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, Webb recalled his conversations with Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. As far as he was concerned, he was quoted as saying in one transcript, "I'm not going to run a program that's just a one-shot program. If you want me to be the administrator, it's going to be a balanced program that does the job for the country."

Webb's vision of a balanced program resulted in a decade of space science research that remains unparalleled today. During his tenure, NASA invested in the development of robotic spacecraft, which explored the lunar environment so that astronauts could do so later, and it sent scientific probes to Mars and Venus, giving Americans their first-ever view of the strange landscape of outer space. As early as 1965, Webb also had written that a major space telescope, then known as the Large Space Telescope, should become a major NASA effort.

By the time Webb retired just a few months before the first moon landing in July 1969, NASA had launched more than 75 space science missions to study the stars and galaxies, our own Sun and the as-yet unknown environment of space above the Earth's atmosphere. Missions such as the Orbiting Solar Observatory and the Explorer series of astronomical satellites built the foundation for the most successful period of astronomical discovery in history, which continues today.

Webb supported science behind the scenes, as well. Shortly after assuming the job vacated by Keith Glennan, Webb chose to continue the same basic organization that his predecessor had adopted for the selection of science programs. However, he enhanced the role of scientists in key ways. He gave them greater control in the selection process of science missions and he created the NASA University Program, which established grants for space research, funded the construction of new laboratories at universities and provided fellowships for graduate students. The program also encouraged university presidents and vice presidents to actively participate in NASA's Space Science Program and to publicly support all of NASA's programs.

A Notable Record

This record of accomplishment is perhaps more notable given Webb's initial reluctance to accept the job. An experienced manager, attorney and businessman, the North Carolina native had served as Director of the Bureau of the Budget and as Undersecretary of State in the Truman administration. Webb also served as president and vice president of several private firms and served on the board of directors of the McDonnell Aircraft Company. He was not, however, a scientist or engineer-something he noted when President Kennedy asked him to consider the job as NASA Administrator.

He told an interviewer that, "I felt that I had made the pattern of my life, and I was not really the best person for this anyway. It seemed to me someone who knew more about rocketry, about space, would be a better person." Kennedy did not see it that way. With his keen political savvy and exceptional managerial skills, Webb was perfect for the job, the President believed. He made it clear to Webb that the NASA Administrator's job was a policy job. He needed someone who could handle the large issues of national and international policies.

The scientific community was equally anxious about Webb. The scientists at NASA Headquarters had wanted someone with a keen interest in space science and a desire to bolster the involvement of universities in the space program. Within a few months, Webb proved where he stood.

A Fitting Honor

At the height of the Apollo program, NASA had 35,000 employees and more than 400,000 contractors in thousands of companies and universities across the U.S. Under Webb's direction, the agency undertook one of the most impressive projects in history-landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

As NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said when he announced the new name for the next generation space telescope, "It is fitting that Hubble's successor be named in honor of James Webb. Thanks to his efforts, we got our first glimpses at the dramatic landscape of outer space. He took our nation on its first voyages of exploration, turning our imagination into reality. Indeed, he laid the foundations at NASA for one of the most successful periods of astronomical discovery. As a result, we're rewriting the textbooks today with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and, in 2010, the James Webb Telescope."