Exploring Deep Space…and Ourselves

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On Jan. 8, the telescope completed deployment of the gold-plated primary mirror with a secondary mirror, as the spacecraft moved into permanent orbit. The telescope is roughly the size of a tennis court, the culmination of a series of daunting design and technical challenges. The rollout involved over 50 major milestones and 178 release mechanisms.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA( implements this latest space project, in conjunction with counterpart agencies in Canada and Europe. This organization has been central to American space exploration since its inception in 1958, as a competi intense with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War quickly escalated.A mission of the Webb Telescope is to study galaxies and stars as they appeared relatively soon after the Big Bang. Great potential exists to deepen our knowledge of the nature of matter, and perhaps the dynamics that lead to the emergence of life.

The information collected from Hubble has modified and refined the fundamental conceptions of astronomy. Scientists have confirmed that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang, which created the universe around 13.7 billion years ago. The US space program has evolved steadily for many decades, although it has only occasionally made headlines. By far the most dramatic space policy announcement was President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 promise, successfully delivered, to land a crew on the Moon within a decade – and return them safely.

These are the words of Edward Weiler, head of NASA’s science division. Striking visual images transmitted by the Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990, “…brought the Universe closer together and made it personal to the average person. His images are now part of our culture.

James Webb, director of NASA, led the Mammoth Moon project. Like his ally Lyndon Johnson, he was a realist who accomplished difficult tasks and, to a remarkable degree, furthered the public good.

India and Japan are continuing cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. This in turn is raising fears in Beijing that the United States is somehow maneuvering behind the scenes to create a partnership designed ultimately to isolate China. In 2004, President George W. Bush committed our nation to an ambitious exploration of Mars and the wider solar system. Little expressed public interest resulted. Compared to the days of JFK, we are collectively more cautious, for complex reasons. At the same time, other countries in Asia, Europe and elsewhere are developing space programs. Canadian and European participation in the Webb Telescope reflects much larger developments.

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