On July 11, President Joe Biden released the first images sent from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
The telescope was launched on Christmas Day 2021 and reached its destination a million miles from Earth in January. It is described as the largest optical telescope in space. It was named after James Webb, NASA Administrator from 1961 to 1968.
Not only was it exciting to see the images from the telescope, it was also encouraging to note our president’s scientific interest and approval.
Of course, there were other presidents before Biden who created and encouraged space exploration.
NASA was founded in 1958 under President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1961, during Cold War tensions, President John F. Kennedy went to Congress to request that the U.S. pursue moon exploration and land an American on the moon and return that astronaut to Earth safely. Although this focus on space was considered a national security priority, it also was thought to help Americans focus more on the sky than on the earthly/international crises.
“Fly me to the moon so I can play among the stars. Let me know what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. …”**
On July 20, 1969, during Richard Nixon’s presidency, Astronaut and Commander Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) who was also an aeronautical engineer, naval aviator and professor, was the first person to step onto the surface of the moon via the Apollo 11 module. He spoke the following memorable words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
There were (and still are?) folks who refused to believe that humans had actually reached the moon. One hopes that folks, especially young people, are encouraged and given the opportunity to expand their minds and learn that exploring the universe is critically important.
Ultimate Space Telescope, a Nova PBS documentary that covers the development and construction of the Webb Space Telescope and includes some of the spatial images it released, is well worth watching.
*Out Of This World was an American sitcom that aired from 1987 to 1991, in which a teenage girl is half space alien.
** The song Fly Me To The Moon was written in 1954 by American composer Bart Howard (1915-2004).