What we do here is, we build the explorers [satellites, spacecraft and probes] that go onboard the spaceships. So anything that goes up and kind of orbits the earth or goes out to space and visits other planets, we’ll build here, but other folks will build our spaceships for us.
What is the James Webb Space Telescope?
The James Webb Space Telescope itself is meant to follow up the Hubble Telescope, so there are a lot of differences and similarities.
So the Hubble [Telescope] orbited [moved around] the earth; whereas James Webb [Space Telescope] to do its work, it has to go literally almost a million miles away from the earth. And it needs to do that to look in what’s called the Infrared Spectrum and it needs to operate at a very cold temperature, we’re talking like -400 degrees F [Fahrenheit] in order to do what it needs to do.
So this is a scale model [smaller version] of what the eventual James Webb Telescope will look like. What we have here is called a primary mirror and what happens is light comes in, bounces off of here [the primary mirror]; goes into the secondary mirror. There’s a third mirror [behind the primary mirror] and all of our science instruments are located back here [behind the primary mirror]
What’s interesting here is with this big primary mirror, it’s made out of all different smaller mirrors and it’s about six times larger than the Hubble mirror.
What we have down here [below the primary mirror] is called the sun shield. We need to keep all of these instruments cool, and on this side [below the sun shield] warm. So this side, over here, [the top of] the sun shield, it’s almost like you have a million SPF sunscreen protecting all of the instruments up at the top.
What’s behind me is a very, one of the largest clean rooms on the east coast. Everyone who works in there has to have a clean room suit and put on a mask and it’s very important to keep clean because the James Webb Space Telescope is an optical item [relating to or using light]. So we don’t want anything like dust or smudges or anything like that, or oils, to get onto the mirrors.
What advice do you have for kids?
Try your best in school and always try and participate. I think one key trait here and almost anywhere is the ability to speak and listen. So if you’re able to answer questions or ask questions in class and become comfortable doing those things, that’ll help you out in the long run, no matter what you do. If you want something in engineering, looking up things like mechanical engineering drawing classes, things like that, that help you interpret [understand] drawings, that will be beneficial.