December 10, 2010
The James Webb Space Telescope is one of NASA’s Great Observatories, a worthy scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This space observatory will see the first galaxies to form in the universe. It will explore other beginnings as well: how stars are born and give rise to solar systems. It will study planets, investigating their potential for life. In order to look back to the earliest stars, JWST is optimized to detect infrared light, using a mirror more than 20 feet in diameter and operated in a cold, dark environment beyond the moon, nearly a million miles from earth. This remarkable observatory is all about beginnings: galaxies, stars, planets and life. Its launch in this decade will begin a new era in astronomy and astrophysics.
Kathryn Flanagan is a Senior Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where she is head of the Mission Office for the James Webb Space Telescope. She is responsible for the development and operations of the Science and Operations Center for this NASA mission. She earned her bachelor’s degree and PhD in physics at MIT, where she began working in the field of X-ray astronomy, with a special interest in supernova remnants and the development of new instruments for space. She became part of the science research staff at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and MIT, and has worked on flight instruments for the Einstein Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the future International X-Ray Observatory . She has been active in education, first as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching math and physics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and later as Director for Education and Public Outreach for MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. She has participated in NASA’s advisory structure, co-chairing strategic planning documents and serving on the Astrophysics Subcommittee. She joined the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2007 to lead the JWST mission office.