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The Biggest Space Telescope in the Universe

"The Biggest Space Telescope in the Universe" artwork. Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope.


NGSS Standards:



Crosscutting Concepts:

Cause and Effect

How do you launch the largest space telescope ever built into space? The James Webb Space Telescope will travel 1.5 million miles away from Earth to help answer some of our biggest questions about the universe. But first, it has to be launched on a rocket - and the telescope is too big to fit on a rocket. So NASA decided to fold it up - and then unfold it in space. How? NASA scientist Knicole Colón and NASA engineer Alphonso Stewart take us on a journey through the world’s biggest origami project.

Transcript-The Biggest Space Telescope in the Universe
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Photo of Knicole Colón and the space telescope.

The episode features two amazing NASA experts! Knicole Colón is the deputy project scientist for exoplanet science on the James Webb Space Telescope. She says her job is to make sure that Webb is ready to do exoplanet science, which means studying planets outside our solar system.

Alphonso Stewart is featured in this amazing NASA video (beginning at 1:30). He is Webb's deployment systems lead. He says that means he's in charge of making sure everything works on the deployment system.

What's the deployment system, you ask? It is how the telescope will unfold and set up to work in space. This video shows how deployment is supposed to work.

Previous to launch, Alphonso makes sure that this system will work with tests, tests, and more tests. Here's an example: Webb's Sunshield Successfully Unfolds in Final Tests.


Diagram of the JWST. The main honey-comb mirrors are above the sunshield.

Webb has very complex science and engineering behind it - that's why it's taken over 10,000 workers and two decades to build it!

This video by Smarter Everyday does a nice job of explaining all the complexity, with the help of Webb's lead scientist.

Webb will study infrared light to detect the origins of the universe. Learn more about infrared light and how Webb uses it, in this video:

There's a lot more to learn about Webb. Right now (as we type!) it's scheduled to launch December 22. Stay updated on the launch and its journey with NASA's website (or Webb-site?) for Webb:

There will be lots of news about Webb for years to come, if all goes well!


NASA has lot of fun projects for students, including an art challenge called #UnfoldTheUniverse. Check it out here.

Plus, NASA takes its origami references very seriously. It has a guide for ambitious paper folders to make their own origami telescope mirror!

Lindsay & Marshall also challenge listeners to fold their own paper airplanes. Here's a video of our 7 year old's favorite technique!


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