At 4:55 that Friday, I was one of only a few folks still in the office. Luckily one of the others was Jim Uba, our support team’s Jedi. "Jim?... I can't believe I'm saying this - it's NASA in Houston, and they have a problem." We both couldn't help but chuckle at the pop-culture reference, but we both immediately went to work building the IDL licenses the customer urgently needed. At that time, it was a highly manual process, and we were lucky Jim was there. I was able to walk the customer through the install and NASA continued its testing on the JWST, which from the release of the first images a few weeks ago, was a remarkable success!
Including our small yet mighty support team, there have been many people involved in the success of the JWST. Ball Aerospace was one of the teams that helped build JWST. A scientist from Ball who visited our office to explain IDL's role in the mission explained they were “trying to peer back in time, to see the origins of our universe.” The galaxies we are seeing in JWST imagery are over 13 billion light years away, meaning it took 13 BILLION years for that light to reach the point at where it strikes the sensor. Earth is aged at 4.54 billion years (plus or minus a cool 50 million), meaning we are receiving imagery from a time long before our planet and any of its inhabitants even existed!
For a sensor to gather such faint light from so long ago, the telescope's mirrors had to be exceptionally large and sensitive. As JWST was quite large in comparison to its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, it needed to be folded to fit within a comparably tiny launch vehicle and after reaching its destination, remotely unpacked and the mirrors calibrated.