Scientists and engineers prepare for the next phase of the James Webb Space Telescope, the scientific successor to the Hubble. Nathan Frandino reports.
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What may not look impressive now is actually the next big technological advancement in space exploration.
Scientists and engineers inside a sealed cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland are busy preparing what will eventually go to where few scientific instruments have gone before.
Deputy project manager Paul Geithner says the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, is the scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) PAUL GEITHNER, DEPUTY PROJECT MANAGER TECHNICAL, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE, SAYING:
"It's really the next big space telescope that is being built, so it will pick up where Hubble leaves off, scientifically."
The JWST will travel a million miles - or about 1.5 million kilometers - from the sun.
It's there that project scientist Matthew Greenhouse hopes the JWST will show off one of its most advanced features, its infrared technology.
(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MATTHEW GREENHOUSE, PROJECT SCIENTIST, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE, SAYING:
"We had to build it as an infrared telescope because one of its primary science missions is to see the light from the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang."
In space, these stars and galaxies are still expanding.
The light they're giving off has stretched into the infrared portion of the spectrum.
And to capture that light, NASA had to equip the JWST with scientific instruments like the Near Infrared Camera.
Using the camera presented a unique technological challenge.
(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MATTHEW GREENHOUSE, PROJECT SCIENTIST, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE SAYING:
"To be an infrared telescope, we also had to make it a very cold telescope, and this is because everything about absolute zero emits infrared radiation. So if we had infrared goggles, we would see that our bodies are glowing in the infrared, the walls and the floors would be glowing, so if we didn't cool this telescope down, it'd be blinded by its own infrared emission."
They solved this problem by creating a five-layer sunshield the size of a tennis court.
That shield is designed to keep the JWST cool enough to operate. And cool enough to give scientists images of outer space that they have yet to see.
It's those images where NASA hopes the payoff of this $8.8 billion project lies.
The telescope is scheduled to launch in 2018.
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