The James Webb Space Telescope

The successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope was a great morale booster for me.  It showed that my country, the USA, is still capable of great national achievements.

It is a million miles from the earth’s surface—four times as far away as the moon.  Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which was 300 miles above the earth, it couldn’t have been repaired if anything went wrong.

The telescope detects stars and galaxies more than a billion light-years away, which means it sees them as they were billions of years ago.

When our civilization is no more, the Webb telescope will still be in orbit, a symbol of the effort the human species was willing to make in order to understand the universe they live in.  

Project workers overcome great difficulties.  Just one is that the telescope components were refrigerated as close to absolute zero as possible because the telescope detects infra-red rays and anything that has the slightest degree of heat gives off infra-red rays.

The PBS video gives an excellent account of the project and the challenges it overcame.  This shows, too, that PBS is still capable of great journalism.

It does note that the project was behind schedule and over budget.  There was a plausible case for abandoning it, but in this case the correct decision was to persevere and got it done right.

PBS went out of its way to show the racially diverse nature of project workers, which is fine.  I’m inspired by examples of people from different backgrounds working together for the common good.

Also, this was not an exclusively American project.  The Webb telescope was launched with Ariane booster rockets, which were developed by the European Space Agency, from France’s launch site in French Guiana.

Whether or not you have time to watch the entire PBS video, I recommend you read Lambert Strether’s and Silas Laycock’s posts about the project.


The Incredibly Cool James Webb Space Telescope by “Lambert Strether” for naked capitalism.

James Webb Space Telescope: An astronomer explains the stunning, newly released first images by Silas Laycock for The Conversation.

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