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Dr. Ken Sembach

Dr. Ken Sembach reflects on how STScI’s resilient staff navigated a new work landscape due to the onset of the pandemic, and continued to support both our missions and the astronomical community.

About This Article

This was a year like no other in the life of the institute. Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most of our staff worked from home as we navigated a new work landscape. Electronic communication, physical separation, virtual meetings, and the balancing of work and home routines became the norm. This was not without its challenges, but our resilient, skilled staff rose to the occasion and didn’t miss a beat. We are fortunate and thankful to be gainfully employed when so many others are struggling to make ends meet.

Working together with the community, we held virtual committee meetings, workshops and colloquia, and conducted our first fully remote proposal peer review for the Hubble Space Telescope. We scheduled and supported Hubble observations remotely, held onsite launch and commissioning rehearsals in the James Webb Space Telescope mission operations center, and continued laying the groundwork for amazing science with the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Our research staff engaged in forefront scientific research. Our archives expanded their offerings. And our public outreach staff shared the wonders of astronomical discoveries with millions of people worldwide. None of this would have been possible without the onsite work of our dedicated facilities and IT teams, or the cooperation and understanding of the astronomical community and NASA.  

As we approach the Institute’s 40th anniversary in the coming year, we have much to look forward to and be excited about. We’ll be selecting and implementing new science programs for Webb and Hubble, and there is no better way to lift spirits than with a launch! There is still much to do to prepare, but we’ll be ready no matter which pandemic conditions persist.

We look forward to welcoming you to the institute in person when we’re back onsite on a more regular basis. You’ll notice some changes when you arrive, but still experience the passion we have for our work and the camaraderie of our staff. As always, we remain committed to serving the astronomical community and helping humanity explore the universe.