James Webb Space Telescope Set to Launch in 2021

George Sonneborn, the NASA Project Scientist for Operations for the James Webb Space Telescope, visited UWG on Wednesday, Feb. 26 to present information on the James Webb Space telescope. Sonneborn received his Doctorate in 1980 from Ohio State University, studying stars. He got his first job at the NASA Goddard Space Center in Maryland in 1982 and started as a staff astronomer.

Sonneborn wrote 30 papers for the first naked-eye supernova in 400 years and continues his research now. From 2005 until his retirement in 2018, he had been the project scientist for the telescope. In addition to his studies, he has written over 100 research papers in his career.

            Katherine Johnson was a mathematician and rocket scientist for NASA. She designed the James Webb Space Telescope prior to her passing on Feb. 23. Johnson was responsible for calculating the orbits before sending rockets and probes into space, which is what made her job crucial while working on machinery such as the telescope. The telescope is expected to launch in 2021 and help scientists find information that telescopes and other probes launched into space over the years weren’t able to obtain.

            James Webb, whom the telescope was named after, was NASA’s second administrator. He supervised the first manned spaceflight program, known as Mercury, and supervised the second manned spaceflight program, known as Gemini. Webb was also responsible for supervising the Mariner and Pioneer Planetary Exploration Programs and the Apollo Program. Before his death in 1992, he established science as a central part of NASA’s mission.

            The observatory of the telescope unfolds in space after it’s launch, meaning it will not activate until it leaves Earth. The Sunshield of the telescope protects it from the Sun’s and Earth’s heat, allowing it to cool to -380 fahrenheit.   

This international project is expected to study the universe in infrared light, discover the first stars that formed shortly after the big bang, and search for water on extrasolar planets similar to Earth. This telescope is also expected to be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble and potentially make unimaginable discoveries. The overall project is international, with European and Canadian Space Agencies partnering with NASA in order to make the project successful.      With the launch expected to take place next year, the launch vehicle is an Ariane 5 Rocket. The rocket is being supplied by the European Space Agency and the site will be Arianespace’s launch complex near Kourou, French Guiana. Webb’s state of the art capabilities will address scientific questions that other observatories are unable to answer.



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