Baltimore hosts full-size James Webb Space Telescope model

A 12,000-pound model of the James Webb Space Telescope visits the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

A globe-trotting, six-ton, full-size model of the James Webb Space Telescope has made its way to Baltimore, Md.’s Inner Harbor. The model is expected to be completed by Friday October 14 and will stay through October 26.

This represents the array of hexagonal mirrors, which in real life will be coated with gold. Credit: Laura Dattaro

The model is stationed in front of the Maryland Science Center, right at the water’s edge. It takes four days for a crew of 12 to assemble the 80-foot-long model, which stands 40 feet high and 40 feet wide. Setup began in earnest on Tuesday, with the model mirror array assembled separately from the base. On Wednesday afternoon, a 60-ton crane hoisted the array off the ground, swung it over the harbor, and lowered it down for attachment. The swaths of fabric that make up the model sunshield still lay draped on the ground.

Northrop Grumman, a prime contractor on the real-life James Webb, built the model, in part to raise awareness and garner interest in the project. So far, the aluminum-and-steel behemoth has visited the National Mall in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; New York City’s Bat­tery Park; Seat­tle; Dublin; Mon­treal; Munich; God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt, Md.; Orlando; Paris; Rochester, N.Y.; and Col­orado Springs. Its next visit is planned for New York’s Hay­den Plan­e­tar­ium in spring 2012. A spokesperson from Northrop told EarthSky in an e-mail:

The goal is to raise the visibility of JWST as the successor to Hubble. JWST will be 100 times more sensitive than the Hubble Space Telescope. JWST will transform our understanding of the universe and open its wonders to students from kindergarten to graduate school. JWST is already inspiring students to consider STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] degrees and career choices as they see its engineering challenges be overcome and ponder the science questions it is designed to answer. … To date, 75 percent of JWST’s hardware is complete, in production, or undergoing testing. All 18 mirror segments have completed their polishing and coating stages and are well within their stringent performance specifications; twelve of those have completed cryogenic testing and the rest are on schedule to do so. All of JWST’s science instruments will be completed and delivered by next spring.

A view of the globe-trotting, six-ton, full-size model of the James Webb Space Telescope, on display now in Baltimore. Photo credit: Jon Sham

Awareness of the telescope became more crucial in July, when the House Appropriations Subcommittee proposed a bill that would cut funding to NASA, including killing the James Webb altogether. Since then, support groups, Facebook fan pages, and letter-writing campaigns have sprung up worldwide urging Congress to reconsider, even as the astronomy community split over concerns that funding the Webb might lead to canceled projects in other NASA divisions, notably planetary and Earth sciences. Though Webb’s technical progress has thus far been excellent, according to a 2010 independent review of the project, its budget and planning have been less than stellar.

The model comes to Baltimore in part because the city is host to the Space Telescope Science Institute, which will oversee Webb’s operations after launch; it also accompanies the annual Asso­ci­a­tion of Science-Technology Cen­ters conference, which will this year be held at the Baltimore Convention Center. Its presence includes an array of science activities, including opportunities to meet former astronauts John Grunsfeld, who flew on five space shuttle missions—including three to service Hubble—and currently serves as STScI’s deputy director, and Leland Melvin, who flew on space shuttle missions STS-122 and STS-129 in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

The telescope model stands approximately 40 feet tall. Credit: Laura Dattaro

Bottom line: A 12,000-pound model of the James Webb Space Telescope visits the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The model is expected to be completed by Friday October 14 and will stay through October 26. Northrop Grumman, a prime contractor on the real-life James Webb, built the model, in part to raise awareness and garner interest in the project.

Webb Telescope instrument passes test to withstand space rigors

James Webb Space Telescope in financial limbo, but science pushes on

Laura Dattaro

MORE ARTICLES