Building the World's Most Powerful Telescope

Assembling the world’s most powerful space telescope is a complicated process, and Chris Gunn has been there from nearly the beginning. Gunn, a NASA photographer, has spent almost a decade photographing the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the famed Hubble, capturing its transformation from a bare metal framework into a gleaming science observatory with 18 gold-plated mirrors. “For me, a science-fiction buff, it’s almost like seeing the Enterprise being built,” Gunn says. NASA has Gunn capture nearly step in the process for the space agency’s own records—“every single wrench turn, every single movement is documented,” he said. Some photos are never disclosed because they feature proprietary technology. Others, after thorough approval from project managers, are released to the public to spark interest and awe at the ambitious (and expensive) project. Soon, it’ll be Webb’s turn to take pictures. In 2019, the telescope will launch to a spot about one million miles from Earth and settle into an orbit around the sun. Webb, seeing the cosmos in infrared wavelengths, will photograph the most distant stars and galaxies in the universe. When that happens, Gunn says, “I really want people to want to know what the observatory looked like and how it was built and about the people who built it.”

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Al Bello / Getty

    Socializing in a Pandemic, Protected by Plastic

    Schools, restaurants, workplaces, and shops have installed plexiglass shields and plastic curtains, tents, and screens as measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, leading to a new social landscape of clear-plastic barriers.

  • CSNafzger / Shutterstock

    Idaho: Images of the Gem State

    A few glimpses of Idaho’s landscape, and some of the animals and people calling it home

  • Brynn Anderson / AP

    Photos of the Week: Sydney Fog, House Hat, Crow Pursuit

    Skiing in the French Alps, flooding in Michigan, a drive-through burlesque in Las Vegas, disinfecting streets in Buenos Aires, social-distancing rings in Turkey, a fawn rescue in Germany, and much more

  • Elaine Cromie / Getty

    Ramadan 2020: A Holy Month During a Pandemic

    Images from the past month of people observing Ramadan in a changed world