Dr. Kenneth Sembach against a backdrop of Spiral Galaxy NGC 6503

Letter from the Director

Dr. Kenneth Sembach reflects on this year’s accomplishments, including Hubble's ultraviolet spectroscopic study, our ongoing efforts to prepare for Webb, and a WFIRST mission milestone.

It has been a busy year at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where we expand the frontiers of space astronomy and share scientific discoveries with the world on a daily basis. The Hubble Space Telescope continued its epic exploration of the universe. We are more committed than ever to using its unique observing capabilities to their fullest potential.

Using approximately 1,000 orbits of director’s discretionary observing time over the next three observing cycles, the institute will implement a comprehensive ultraviolet spectroscopic study of high- and low-mass stars in the local universe to study the first 10 million years of stellar evolution on behalf of the community. I am confident that the data collected from Hubble, in combination with data from other observatories, numerical simulations, and theoretical calculations, will advance our understanding of star-formation and stellar processes, which will apply to studies of stars throughout the universe.

We have also been preparing for the launch and commissioning of the James Webb Space Telescope in early 2021. Despite the recent launch delay, Webb is worth the wait—the observatory will reveal a universe we have never seen and force us to ask questions we don’t even know yet how to ask. The extra time prior to launch is giving us opportunities to better prepare both ourselves and the astronomical community for the first cycle of observations. Our goal, as always, remains to help the community get great science out of Webb from day one.

We also continued to focus our data science efforts on improving the user experience and treating the collective holdings of the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) as we would an operating mission. The science potential of the archive is enormous, and with the addition of the final data from the Kepler observatory, new data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the second data release of the PanSTARRS survey, opportunities for new discoveries abound. These datasets and our data science efforts in the commercial cloud are also paving the way for the future archive of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

Most importantly, this past year was one in which we took a good look at ourselves and our work, and reaffirmed who we are and what we want to be as an institute. We have a responsibility to serve others to the best of our abilities. I hope that, like me, you see our desire to do so and find inspiration among these articles.