Ready to launch: Library talk provides insight into James Webb Space Telescope

Lana Klingemann will speak at Bud Werner Memorial Library on Thursday about her experience working as a mechanical engineer on the James Webb Space Telescope.
Courtesy photo

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch into space Dec. 18, and this week, Steamboat is offered a unique opportunity to meet and ask questions of one of its mechanical engineers, Lana Klingemann.

Klingemann will be speaking from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Klingemann, whose area of expertise was creating mechanisms on board the telescope, will explain some of the key technologies that she helped develop in the process of creating the telescope. She will also describe the challenges and difficulties surrounding the Hubble Space Telescope as background for why its successor, the James Webb, was necessary.

“Lana brings a personal connection with technology, space and the scientific successor to Hubble right to our doorstep,” said Jennie Lay, adult programs director at the library. “After decades of being marveled by images from Hubble, we’re all on the brink of seeing even deeper into space with the James Webb telescope.”

If you go

What: Engineering the James Webb Space Telescope

When: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28

Where: Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.; masks are required to attend this live event.

The James Webb Space Telescope — which is over two decades in the making — is the largest and most powerful ever flown into space. Unique in its design, its mirror is made of 18 gold-plated hexagonal deployable segments. Objectives range from collecting light still lingering from the big bang to searching for signs of life on exoplanets.

Klingemann said that she is most excited about the opportunity to see smaller planets — known as exoplanets — that orbit around other stars rather than the sun.

“With our current technology, we can only see large planets,” she explained. “But the James Webb will have the capability to see smaller planets and will give us the potential to understand if there is life out there — or if there was 10 million years ago.”

The telescope, which has been decades in the making, is scheduled to launch into space in December.
Courtesy photo

And while the distances in question are so extreme that they are somewhat limiting, Klingemann explained that it forces us to look back in time.

“The telescope won’t say if there is life on the planet currently, but it will show potential for a planet to yield life,” she said. “This is a huge paradigm shift in astronomy; it will answer questions that we don’t even have yet.”

In elementary school, Klingemann did a science project on black holes and was fascinated ever since. The James Webb Space Telescope is a project that she has been working on since she was offered an internship with Ball Aerospace as a college senior. Now, after working for years to design, build and test the telescope’s mirror positioning mechanisms — and with the telescope’s launch date pushed back by years at a time — Klingemann said that it’s “unreal” that the telescope will finally launch this December.

“What a spark to our imaginations it will surely be,” Lay said. “We hope an evening of questions and conversation with someone who has been intimately involved with the project will spark our community’s curiosity to follow the Webb’s progress from launch into decades of discovery to come.”

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