HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — When the James Webb Space Telescope is launched Saturday morning, some of North Alabama’s brightest minds will deserve part of the credit, according to professors at University of Alabama in Huntsville.
“There’s a very strong local connection to this telescope that I think everyone is just going to be relieved to see finally launch,” Patrick J. Reardon of UAH’s Center for Applied Optics told News 19.
Saturday’s planned launch comes after scrubs due to weather on Dec. 22 and 24, respectively.
Reardon said the record-breaking telescope wouldn’t be possible without its delicate components built in north Alabama.
“(It took) companies in town…NeXolve making the solar shields unlike anything that’s ever been made before,” Reardon said. “And even the mirrors that we were testing out at Marshall Space Flight Center at 35 degrees kelvin, very cold – almost minus 400 Fahrenheit – those were machined in Cullman, Alabama.”
When it finally leaves Earth, JWST’s infrared lens will take mankind to the undiscovered territories of space, and with it studying ancient solar systems as they appeared more than ten billion years ago.
“That’s important for us for several reasons,” UAH Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research Director Gary Zenk said. “For one, it determines the composition of the interstellar medium but it also tells us much more about the composition of the sun and why we see certain elements in the sun.”
UAH’s James Hadaway saw the project’s potential when he worked on its design at Marshall Space Flight Center in the early 90s.
“They asked me to lead a team to come up with the initial optical design,” Hadaway said. “Some of the methods and technologies that we developed will play into the next generation of space telescopes.”
One constant, Reardon said, will be north Alabama’s and UAH’s role in exploring the final frontier.
“And it’s a great place to be because we get to be involved in these spectacular programs and then train the next group of scientists and engineers who are going to go beyond that,” Reardon said.
Pending any further delays Christmas morning, NASA will receive the first likely breathtaking photos from the telescope around June.