James Webb Telescope photos and Artemis 1 launch show a promising future

On July 12, NASA released photos of previously unseen parts of our universe.  Taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, these photos included images of distant galaxies, an exoplanet (with evidence of water), a nebula (cloud of gas around a dying star) 2,000 light years away, a group of galaxies known as Stephen’s Quintet, and “Cosmic Cliffs,” a place in the universe where stars are born.  These never-before-seen photographs are an enormous step in discovering the full extent of the universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope launched in French Guiana, from Europe’s Spaceport, on Dec. 25, 2021.  It is the most powerful space telescope ever built, and uses infrared light to study space objects that are very far away.  It was built with the intent of understanding how planets, galaxies, and stars grow and change over time.  It also has other purposes such as adding and building on to the Hubble Space Telescope’s discoveries, trying to find other habitable planets, and looking for the first products of the Big Bang.  Webb has multiple elements that help the telescope accomplish its mission, including a golden mirror (21.3 feet wide, making the telescope the biggest ever built), a sunshield the size of a tennis court, and large antennae that send information to the Webb Science and Operation Center in Baltimore.  In fact, the telescope needed to be folded up like origami in order to fit into the rocket that was launching it.  Webb is an orbiter-style spacecraft, and is currently orbiting around the sun.  On Jan. 24, the telescope entered its orbit around the sun from a point known as “Lagrange Point,” 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth. 

One of the photographs taken, “SMACS 0723” is the clearest and deepest infrared picture of our universe to date.  A second, “WASP-96B,” is an image of an exoplanet (a planet outside of our solar system) with extreme temperatures that was detected to have signs of water.  Two other photos, “Southern Ring Nebula” and “Carina Nebula,” show viewers the birth and death of stars, but also serve as a tool to help scientists understand the changes stars go through.

Another major event in space travel that started this summer is the Artemis 1 launch.  This uncrewed mission will send the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket past the moon over a period  of 42 days, and serves as a test launch for sending more astronauts back to the moon.  

“I think it’s incredible how far we have come with space travel.  There’s no telling what the future will hold with new technology,” said sophomore Isabel Epstein.

However, there have been a great deal of setbacks involving this launch.  On Aug. 29, the original launch date, a nearby thunderstorm disrupted the area, causing lightning to strike towers surrounding the launchpad.  Temperature issues also affected one of the rocket’s engines.  This combination of issues forced NASA to move back the launch until Sept. 3, although unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time the agency had to reschedule.  Due to a fuel leak, the Sept. 3 launch had to be postponed a second time.  Now, the mission is scheduled to launch Sept but may have to be pushed back to early Oct if the launch doesn’t go well once again. 

“I really hope the rocket launches soon because it will be very interesting to see what happens with it and what it discovers,” said sophomore Robert Higgins.  

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket NASA has ever launched, and its journey will be a whopping 1.3 million miles long.  Onboard will be three mannequins with cameras and sensors attached all over their bodies to analyze and store data.  The mannequins are part of an experiment to see how radiation affects humans to and from the moon, and the information they provide will be vital for future space exploration.  

“The effect of radiation on the human body will be fascinating information,” said junior Jackson Garcia.  

Artemis 1 is the start of a new series of moon missions, with Artemis 2 planning to send humans on an orbit around the moon, and Artemis 3 planning to send the first woman and person of color to the moon. 

This mission sparks a new generation of space travel, and will be key to ensuring success for future launches.  Both the Webb Telescope photos’ release and the Artemis 1 launch are momentous occasions that will help humanity understand more about our planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe.