Biomimicry at its finest.
For the uninitiated, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - due to launch in 2018 - is a 6.5 meter telescope which will peer 13.5 billion years into the early universe, revealing the meticulous formation and cosmic evolution of stars and galaxies. JWST’s infrared capability will permit insight into the birth of planetary and stellar systems within the densely opaque interstellar dust clouds which visible-light observatories - such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) - cannot provide.
The JWST will aid in the search for life in the universe by analyzing the atmospheres of extrasolar planets or, planetary bodies orbiting stars outside our solar system. Understanding the atmospheric chemical composition of other atmospheres will guide our roughly 13.8-14.5 billion year quest to find the building blocks of life in the universe.
An international collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), and Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the JWST will be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Northrop Grumman, and after launch, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which also currently operates the Hubble Space Telescope as a part of John Hopkins University.
The scientific instrumentation and technological implementation integrated into JWST is easily accessible through NASA’s “Explore James Webb Space Telescope" page, an interactive headquarters with the status of JWST’s development, photos/animation/videos, recent news publications, and more.
The “James Webb” in James Webb Space Telescope serves as a respectful ode to NASA’s former second administrator - James E. Webb - an influential proponent for space science throughout and beyond the Apollo program. When chosen to be administrator for NASA, Webb is quoted as saying, “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….”
From NASA’s “Explore JWST" page (where you can learn much more) regarding James E. Webb’s importance to the project:
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 the James Webb Telescope.”
So what’s with the obsessive hexagonal construction inside honeybees’ hives? And why is this honeycomb structure of relative importance to the design of the James Webb Space Telescope and its functionality? NPR Science Correspondent Robert Krulwich explains via the NPR blogpost
"What Is It About Bees And Hexagons?"
JWST is one of the most ambitious projects since the deployment and servicing missions of the Hubble Space Telescope. The difference between the two, however, is the James Webb Space Telescope will remain in stable orbit around the sun at Lagrange Point “L2”, which will not permit a spacecraft rendezvous (right now) barring any problems with the hardware. Just as the Apollo 13 mission serves to remind, “failure is not an option.”
While at the 30th Space Symposium, I had the privilege of enjoying a conference session with those responsible for James Webb’s creation, implementation, and ultimately, it’s success and discovery: Blake Bullock, Director, Civil Air and Space, Business & Advanced Systems Development - Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; Dave Gallagher, Director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; John M. Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate - NASA; Matt Mountain, Director, Space Telescope Science Institute; John C. Mather, Senior Project Scientist, James Webb Space Telescope - NASA; and Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics - Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was by far one of the most inspiring discussions regarding the future I’ve experienced thus far.
I encourage everyone to watch National Geographic’s informative and 4-minute brief video “Building the Largest Space Telescope Ever” for a wonderful introduction to this monumental human effort.
Recommended: my archive specific to JWST.