I Am in Awe of the JWST

Folks, if you are discouraged about the state of humanity, I have a fix for you. I finally got my act together last week and did whatever was required to get PBS streaming programs on my TV. I’ve been paying a monthly contribution to PBS for quite a while, but hadn’t set up the app for streaming. Finally did it, and the first thing I treated myself to was the Nova program from last July about the James Webb Space Telescope.

Humans are amazing when they can cooperate to reach a goal, that’s all I can say. We are so accustomed to the daily news about crime, wars, health care chaos, traffic rudeness, and other misbehavior, that I had settled into a very dark narrative about the human condition. Yet after I watched this program detailing the decades of work of over 20,000 scientists and engineers who developed new materials, new mechanical details, new schemes to complete this marvel of technology, fold it into a rocket, blast it into space, then watch it unfold and get itself into operational mode without a flaw, I was stunned. Everything that happened after the launch had to occur without any tweaking by developers here on Earth.

Now it is a million miles from home. Far too far away for any tinkering by earthlings such as our astronauts did by putting a pair of glasses on the also amazing Hubble telescope. JWST had to work its way through more than 300 points in its deployment; failure of any one of which could have ruined the whole thing. Imagine the testing and revising and retesting that happened before it was folded and packed into its rocket.

Best bet for curing your despair over human nature: watch the PBS video. If, for some reason, you can’t stream it, borrow it from a library. Nova, July 2022: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/ultimate-space-telescope/

Second best: jwst.nasa.gov

The NASA website is great, but the video really tells the story, and you’ll get caught up in the anxiety in the room as each bit of the deployment unfolds (literally) a million miles beyond our ability to fix anything.