Unprecedented Infrared Sensitivity
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is NASA’s infrared flagship observatory. JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
Following on the technical and scientific legacy of previous optical and infrared space observatories, such as Hubble, Spitzer, and Herschel, JWST offers orders of magnitude improvements in sensitivity and spatial resolution from 0.6 to 28.8 micron, enabling transformative research in a broad range of science areas, including the solar system, exoplanets, star- and planet-formation, galactic science, galaxy formation and evolution, and cosmology.
The development of the observatory was managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and the main industrial partner was Northrop Grumman. The Science and Operations Center for JWST is the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. STScI brings together the scientific community to enable and maximize the science of JWST. Its staff is responsible for the development of the ground system for JWST, which includes flight operations, as well as the software the astronomical community needs to plan and execute JWST observations, and to analyze the data it produces. STScI is also responsible for hosting the JWST data in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).
Expected to be operational for at least 5 years, with a goal of 10, JWST is a general observatory, accessible to the worldwide community via regular calls for observing proposals. Proposed JWST programs are peer-reviewed and selected via an external time allocation committee.
An International Collaboration
NASA is the lead partner, with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). NASA has overall responsibility for the JWST mission. ESA’s contributions include the Near-Infrared Spectrograph, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) optics assembly and the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. CSA’s contributions to JWST include the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS).
Dozens of contractors and subcontractors throughout the U.S. and around the world contributed to the James Webb Space Telescope. The following 14 countries were involved in building the observatory: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Additional ESA member states in Europe also contributed to ESA.
Who Was James Webb?
James E. Webb was NASA Administrator from 1961-1968, and guided the fledgling space agency to triumph in one of the most impressive projects in history — landing a man on the Moon.
Although President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation to landing astronauts on the Moon before the end of the decade, Webb believed that the space program was more than a political race. He believed that NASA had to strike a balance between human space flight and science because such a combination would serve as a catalyst for strengthening the nation's universities and aerospace industry.
Webb's vision of a balanced space program resulted in a decade of space science research that remains unparalleled today. During his tenure, NASA invested in the development of robotic spacecraft to explore the lunar environment and sent scientific probes to Mars and Venus, giving Americans their first-ever view of the strange landscapes of outer space. As early as 1965, Webb also had written that a major space telescope — a concept that would eventually become Hubble — should become a major NASA effort.
By the time Webb retired just a few months before the Apollo moon landing in July 1969, NASA had launched more than 75 space science missions to study the stars and galaxies, our own Sun and the as-yet unknown environment of space above the Earth's atmosphere. Missions such as the Orbiting Solar Observatory and the Explorer series of astronomical satellites built the foundation for the most successful period of astronomical discovery in history, which continues today.
As former 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.
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The NASA James Webb Space Telescope, developed in partnership with ESA and CSA, is operated by AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute.