The Past and Future of Making Megascience: The James Webb Space Telescope

Space Policy and History Forum


Presented Online


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is currently at Kourou in French Guiana being prepared for launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. If all goes to plan, the Telescope’s launch and subsequent operations will be the culmination of over three decades of planning, negotiations, construction and testing. The $10 billion JWST—a joint enterprise of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency—is the most complex and in some ways the most powerful telescope ever built.

Its history—which includes a near-death experience at the hands of a U.S. congressional committee in 2011 when there was an effort to kill the project—raises a range of space policy issues. In this talk, Dr. Robert W. Smith will discuss some episodes in JWST’s history and examine JWST as an example of what can be termed "Megascience," a clear increase in scale beyond the usual sorts of Big Science, and in so doing compare its history with those of the Hubble Space Telescope and the ill-fated Superconducting Supercollider.

Join the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and NASA for this virtual Space Policy and History Forum. The program will be moderated by Dr. Bhavya Lal, NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy, and Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony, Air and Space curator of the Apollo collection.

Watch the program live on the Space Policy and History Forum YouTube Channel or contact Teasel Muir-Harmony to register for the Zoom webinar. Space in the Zoom webinar is limited.

About the Presenter
Dr. Robert W. Smith is a Professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, and Director of the Science, Technology and Society Program in the Faculty of Arts. He has written extensively on the history of spaceflight and space science, including his award-winning book, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics (1989). Smith acted as the on-scene historian to the James Webb Space Telescope, attending project meetings, conducting interviews, and reviewing project documents.

Contact Teasel Muir-Harmony

About the Space Policy and History Forum
The Space Policy and History Forum is a collaboration of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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