composite image of the Tarantula Nebula
Pictures from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – like this composite image of the Tarantula Nebula created by combining infrared imaging from the telescope with X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory – will be featured during the free bonus program presented by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) on Oct. 20, 2023.
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State Univ./L. Townsley et al.; IR: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/JWST ERO Production Team

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) showcases the exacting work behind the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and its dazzling images of the cosmos during a bonus program on Oct. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UAH’s Student Services Building.

Registration is required, but admission is free. Light refreshments will be served.

“The History of the James Webb Telescope: Design, Construction, Testing and Early Scientific Results” will be presented by Dr. James Hadaway, principal research scientist at UAH’s Center for Applied Optics (CAO), and Dr. John Fix, emeritus dean and professor, UAH College of Science.

CAO and Hadaway became involved in the NASA-led international effort to design and develop the telescope early on. For more than two decades before JWST launched on Dec. 25, 2021, CAO played critical partnership roles in conceiving, perfecting and testing the telescope’s “eye.”

Hadaway (Ph.D., Optical Science and Engineering, 2004) began his deep involvement in the project in 1996.

“I had been working on potential optical designs for a 20- to 30-meter diameter space telescope for Marshall Space Flight Center’s Advanced Concepts group,” he says. “When JWST came along, planned as a 6- to 8-meter telescope, NASA asked me to lead a team to develop an initial optical design.”

Then Hadaway was asked if UAH could take the lead in developing and operating an optical measurement system for testing various mirror technologies that could potentially meet the requirements for the JWST primary mirror. The telescope’s mission depends on a near-perfect mirror; that meant lots of testing on Earth at temperatures approximating the extreme cold of outer space.

Hadaway put together a team within the CAO to work with Marshall’s X-Ray and Cryogenic Facility to test the mirrors in their large vacuum chamber, which cooled them to the JWST operating temperature of minus 378 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The optical testing that we did ensured the primary mirror would focus exactly as intended in space, which it does, enabling us to see farther into the universe than ever before.”

JWST is the world’s premier space science observatory, producing images of galaxies formed in the early universe and planets orbiting other stars. Along with examining some of these images, the OLLI program will address the implications of these discoveries for deepening our understanding of how stars, planets, galaxies and the universe as a whole form and evolve.

Each semester, OLLI at UAH offers one free bonus program to demonstrate the benefits of joining OLLI, which is open to ages 50 and up. This fall’s event is part of the 30th-anniversary celebration of lifelong learning programs at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System.

For more information on OLLI at UAH, visit


Kristina Hendrix

Elizabeth Gibisch