James Webb Space Telescope: The engineering behind a ‘first light machine’ that is not allowed to fail

Randy Kimble will never forget the days in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey battered Texas. As a project scientist for integration, test and commissioning of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), he had no option to hide at home. The giant telescope, at that time already 10 years behind schedule and considerably over budget, was right in the middle of one of its 100-day space simulating test campaigns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The main gate was under several feet of water and the rest of the center was shut down,” Kimble told Space.com. “But there was still one route from a hotel strip in that area and you could get in through the back gate at Johnson. Just by a matter of days, we didn’t run out of liquid nitrogen to keep the cooling system going. It was very tense.”