MACON, Ga. — When you think of cities that make significant contributions to research in outer space, Houston and Cape Canaveral may be two that come to mind. But what about Eastman, Georgia?
The first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope were recently released. The telescope is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.
The road to getting those stunning images went through central Georgia's own Dodge County.
It was a Christmas present unlike most for Rick Krontz, the now-retired director of the Institute for Applied Aerospace Research at Middle Georgia State University. The rocket carrying the James Webb was launched the morning of December 25 from Kourou, French Guiana.
"I was at home, and the TV was on, and we're opening presents and watching it at the same time, and I'm getting phone calls, so it was pretty exciting," said Krontz.
Krontz and a team of interns worked on a project with NASA to build a cooling mechanism for the telescope, something that is vital to its operations.
"The mechanism that draws the heat from the computers off the spacecraft that was sent into space, we built that right here in Eastman," said Krontz.
The James Webb is orbiting the sun nearly a million miles from earth. On board are computers and equipment to transmit pictures and data back to Earth. Just like your computers at home, they can overheat.
Krontz's team designed and built the hardware to transfer heat generated on the telescope back out to space.
"We delivered the parts up to Goddard [Space Center], and they explained to me how important that piece that we made was to the whole project, and I about fainted," said Krontz.
The team from Middle Georgia State University designed and built the equipment to withstand the launch into space and stay operational for the telescope's lifespan, estimated to be about ten years.
"It's cool to be in conversation when passing people, that you can say 'me as an intern at Middle Georgia State University, we actually had a lot of our parts that we made go into first in flight and to be on a telescope sitting in outer space,'" said Zack Hartley, a former intern on the project.
After eight years of working on it, from 2008 to 2016, capped off with five years of waiting to see the results in mid-July, Krontz's reaction to the pictures, "It was unreal. It was just surreal. I know I've seen pictures before but to see the images that were coming out, it was just awestruck."