Remarks During a Briefing by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Officials To Preview the First Images From the James Webb Space Telescope
Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Thank you. Thank you. Well, good evening, everyone. I am very honored to be with you all.
President Joe Biden and I talk often about our mutual passion for everything you all do. This is a very exciting moment to join you for the unveiling of the work that you have been laboring on for decades.
So, to our President, Joe Biden, thank you for your leadership around all these issues; our NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson; and the Office of Science and Technology Policy Acting Director, Dr. Alondra Nelson. Thank you also to our colleagues from across the White House and NASA and everyone else joining us from home.
So, yes, as Chair of the National Space Council, I know that today represents an exciting new chapter in the exploration of our universe. From the beginning of history, humans have looked up to the night sky with wonder. And thanks to dedicated people who have been working for decades in engineering and on scientific marvels, we can look to the sky with new understanding.
When NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, we were able to see the stars unobstructed by the Earth's atmosphere and understand the universe in ways we could have never imagined even a few decades earlier.
And now we enter a new phase of scientific discovery. Building on the legacy of Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope allows us to see deeper into space than ever before and in stunning clarity. It will enhance what we know about the origins of our universe, our solar system, and possibly life itself.
This was made possible by partnership among nations. And it is an example of how the scientific endeavor can build upon the international rules and norms that govern our cooperation in space.
This telescope is one of humanity's great engineering achievements. And the images we will see today are a testament to the amazing work done by the thousands of workers across our Nation who dedicated years to this project. They embarked on this complex endeavor for the benefit of humankind, and in the process, accelerated American innovation, strengthened partnerships with our allies, and will undoubtedly inspire generations to look to the heavens with excitement and ambition.
With that, it is my great honor to introduce a leader who has always believed in the power of American innovation and international cooperation to achieve the remarkable: our President, the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
The President. Well, it's great to be with you all. And I was going to say, "Good afternoon," but we're starting this meeting late because I was engaged in preparing for a trip to the Middle East.
But today is a historic day. And thank you, Vice President Harris, Chair of the National Space Council. And thank you, my dear friend and our outstanding NASA Administrator and the guy—the only guy here who's been in space, Bill Nelson. Bill, you're a good friend. Thank you very much for what you're doing.
And Dr. Nelson, you're doing a great job leading this Office of Science and Technology Policy. It really is a matter—it really is amazing.
Six and a half months ago, a rocket launched from Earth carrying the world's newest, most powerful deep-space telescope on a journey 1 million miles into the cosmos—first of all, that blows my mind: a million miles into the cosmos—[laughter]—along the way unfolding itself, deploying a mirror 21 feet wide, a sunshield the size of a tennis court, and 250,000 tiny shutters, each one smaller than a grain of sand.
Put together, it's a new window into the history of our universe.
And today we're going to get a glimpse of the first light to shine through that window, light from other worlds, orbiting stars far beyond our own. It's astounding to me when I read this and saw the—I mean, it really is. It's—anyway, I don't want to—I'll see what they think when we see this.
But light where stars were born and from where they die. Light from the oldest galaxies. The oldest documented light in the history of the universe from over 13 billion—let me say that again: 13 billion years ago. It's hard to even fathom.
Tomorrow, when this image is shared with the world, it will be a historic moment for science and technology, for astronomy and space exploration, for America and all of humanity.
You know, as an international collaboration, this telescope embodies how America leads the world not by the example of our power, but the power of our example. A partnership with others, it symbolizes the relentless spirit of American ingenuity. And it shows what we can achieve, what more we can discover, not just about distant places, but about our very own planet and climate, like NASA's Earth Systems Observatory that we launched last year.
That's why the Federal Government must invest—must invest—in science and technology, more than we have in the past. These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things. And they'll remind the American people, especially our children, that there's nothing beyond our capacity—nothing beyond our capacity.
We can see possibilities no one has ever seen before. We can go places no one has ever gone before. You know, you've heard me say over and over again: America is defined by one single word—possibilities. Possibilities. I want to thank the team at NASA for once again showing that that's who we are, that's who we are as a nation: a nation of possibilities.
And now let's take a look at the very first image from this miraculous telescope.
[At this point, an image of space was displayed.]
NASA Administrator Nelson, I'm going to turn this over to you. So will you please tell us about what we're seeing?
Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration C. William Nelson. Mr. President, if you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm's length, that is the part of the universe that you're seeing, just one little speck of the universe. And what you're seeing there are galaxies. You're seeing galaxies that are shining around other galaxies whose light has been bent. And you're seeing just a small little portion of the universe.
You know, a hundred years ago, Mr. President, Madam Vice President—a hundred years ago, we thought there was only one galaxy. Now, the number is unlimited. And in our galaxy, we have billions of stars, or suns. And there are billions of galaxies with billions of stars and suns. And we're getting our first glimpse.
As you said, Mr. President, we're looking back more than 13 billion years. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specks has been traveling for over 13 billion years.
And by the way, we're going back further, because this is just the first image. They're going back about 13½ billion years. And since we know the universe is 13.8 billion years old, we're going back almost to the beginning. That is the discovery that we are making with this.
There's another thing that you're going to find with this telescope: It is going to be so precise, you're going to see whether or not planets, because of the chemical composition that we can determine with this telescope of their atmosphere, if those planets are habitable.
And when you look at something as big as this is, we are going to be able to answer questions that we don't even know what the questions are yet. This is what's happening, and it's because of this wonderful team that's out here, part of that team led by Thomas Zurbuchen. It was in trouble financially 5 years ago. He took it over. He got Greg Robinson, that you're going to meet, to direct it. And the result is what you've seen.
So what an incredible team, joined, by the way, with our international partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. So this is an international endeavor.
The President. It's amazing. I wonder what the press is like in all those other places.
NOTE: The President spoke at 6:13 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. In his remarks, Administrator Nelson referred to Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA's Science Mission Directorate; and Gregory L. Robinson, Director, James Webb Space Telescope Program, NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Joining the President in the South Court Auditorium were Vice President Harris, Acting Director Nelson, Administrator Nelson, and James Webb Space Telescope Operations Project Scientist Jane Rigby.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks During a Briefing by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Officials To Preview the First Images From the James Webb Space Telescope Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356778