His Space

At 6'8", James Oberg was too tall to be an astronaut, so he became an aerospace engineer and then a space reporter instead

2 min read

James Oberg was 11 in 1955 when his grandfather gave him a copy of Jules Verne’s classic From the Earth to the Moon . He was hooked by the 19th-century fantasy and dreamed of building spaceships—someday. Two years later, he sat on a sidewalk next to a stack of newspapers intended for his paper route and devoured the front-page stories: The Soviets had just launched Sputnik. No longer was space exploration the stuff of science fiction. It was happening, right now.

Then came the realization, as a teenager, that he would never travel in space. At 6 feet 8 inches (213 centimeters), nothing short of a battering ram was going to get him inside one of NASA’s space capsules. But Oberg still wanted to be part of the great leap. He attended grad school at Northwestern University on a NASA fellowship. Just before Christmas in 1968, as the space agency was preparing to launch its Apollo 8 mission to orbit the moon, he and three friends drove from Evanston, Ill., to Cape Canaveral, Fla., where they sat on the beach and watched the launch.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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