By: Eleena Ghosh
Somewhere on the other side of the sun, a million miles from Earth, NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) sits in silence, facing our entire solar system and more, exploring space and time.
Seven months ago, the telescope unfurled in space like a 70-foot phoenix and began its orbit around the Sun.1 Finally, a week ago, three decades of work and an $11 billion investment proved fruitful when NASA and the European and Canadian Space Agencies received JWST’s first full-color images– the deepest view of the distant universe yet.2 The grandiose pictures have been circulating social media and news platforms since then, captivating astronomers and the public alike with opulent nebulae, galaxy clusters, and distant planets.
But more than its ability to take striking images of deep space, JWST is interesting to us for another reason– its surprisingly extensive relationship with the University of Maryland!
Not only was it built just around the corner from the university at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, but numerous Terps have had a role in the project throughout its development:
- The senior JWST project scientist is none other than professor John Mather, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics.3
- Wen-Hsien Chuang (2005) and Dan Kelly (2002, 2005) played key roles in developing the microshutter array for JWST’s near-infrared spectrograph.
- Kan Yang (2010) was the Lead Analyst in determining whether Webb’s instruments would work in extreme cold in space.4
Further still, various development divisions were brimming with Terps:
- Nasif Ahmed (2014), flight operations simulations engineer
- Sonya Hopson (2003), project safety engineer
- Alexandra Lockwood (2007), project scientist and science communications lead
- Alyssa Pagan (2016), science visuals developer
- Keith Parrish (1989), commissioning manager
- Joe Pollizzi (1977), Science and Operations Center ground systems development manager
- Eric Smith (1985, 1988), JWST program scientist and Astrophysics Division chief scientist
- Christopher Stark (2010), deputy integration & test and commissioning project scientist
- Patrick Taylor (1987), flight operations systems engineering architect5
On top of that, several Astronomy faculty members have been granted the opportunity to use the telescope in their own research as part of an early release science program6. Associate Professor Eliza Kempton claims the title of one of the first to be permitted the much-coveted “observing time”, planning to use Webb’s observations for her projects focused on “sub-Neptunes”– mysterious exoplanets surrounded by currently impenetrable haze. 7
Five other faculty members battled their way through the competitive application process and won, beating out 1,167 other applicants.8
Though these Terps have and will continue to make significant contributions towards space exploration and study, they can’t technically claim the title of “Space Terp”, like these six:
John Glenn, the first Terp in space. The 5th man in space and 1st American to orbit the Earth earned his spot as a Terp while taking UMD courses while stationed at the Pentagon in the 1950s.
Dr. Judith Resnik, who received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from us in 1977, went on to fly with NASA twice, as mission specialist on the orbiter Discovery’s maiden voyage in 1984 and crew member on the Challenger in 1986.
- Space Shuttle Discovery saw two more Terps through to space: Paul Richards, a 1991 grad with a master’s in Mechanical Engineering, as mission crew in the 2001 mission and Richard ‘Ricky’ Arnold during the 2009 missions, who received his master’s in Marine Biology in 1992.
- William McCool went on to work aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 after receiving his master’s in Computer Science in 1985.
- Our most recent Terp in space is Dr. Jeanette Epps, who earned both her master’s and Ph.D. from us in Aerospace Engineering in 1994 and 2000. In 2021, she made history as the first African American female astronaut to serve as crew member aboard the ISS!
1 “Where Is Webb? NASA/Webb.” NASA. NASA. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://www.jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/whereIsWebb.html.
2 “Seeking Light from the First Galaxies in the Universe NASA Exploring …” Accessed October 3, 2022. https://www.jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/assets/documents/WebbFactSheet.pdf.
3 Space Telescope Science Institute. “Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science Programs.” STScI.edu. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://www.stsci.edu/jwst/science-execution/approved-ers-programs.
4 “First Webb Space Telescope Images Are Here.” First Webb Space Telescope images are here | Institute for Systems Research. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://isr.umd.edu/news/story/first-webb-space-telescope-images-are-here.
5 “Terps’ Work Helped Create First Images from Webb Space Telescope.” Maryland Today. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://today.umd.edu/terps-work-helped-enable-first-images-from-webb-space-telescope.
6 Space Telescope Science Institute. “Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science Programs.” STScI.edu. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://www.stsci.edu/jwst/science-execution/approved-ers-programs.
7 “Terps’ Work Helped Create First Images from Webb Space Telescope.” Maryland Today. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://today.umd.edu/terps-work-helped-enable-first-images-from-webb-space-telescope.
8 Space Telescope Science Institute. “JWST Cycle 1 General Observer Submission Statistics.” STScI.edu. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://www.stsci.edu/contents/news/jwst/2020/jwst-cycle-1-general-observer-submission-statistics.
Eleena Ghosh is a student assistant pursuing a degree in Environmental Science & Policy with a concentration in Anthropology, which is what led her to the world of archives. She is interested in exploring where all these different domains may intersect, along with museum and curatorial studies, and reparative justice in archives.