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.”

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