By now, most of us would have seen and appreciated brilliant images of far and old galaxies beamed back by NASA's US$10 billion (RM44.5 billion) James Webb Telescope, which is a far improved version of its predecessor the Hubble Telescope.

But how many of us know that a Petaling Jaya resident had a hand in creating a component for this fantastic machine? Meet former aeronautics engineer Satyan Anandarishnan, 63, who helped create the sunshield that protects the telescope.

News portal Free Malaysia Today (FMT) spoke to Satyan about his work for NASA and how he came about creating the five layers of tennis court-sized sheets made of reflective and insulating material.

Growing up in India, Satyan loved two things - science, and flying, thus, it was natural for him to look to the skies when it came to choosing a career.

Satyan took up aeronautical engineering, and while studying in the US, he came across the chance to work for NASA, and he snapped it up.

"One of my classmates was working on the Hubble Space Telescope and said there were job openings, which is how I got involved," he told the portal.

Satyan had worked with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman - which are both contractors for NASA, and this was when he got the chance to meet many talented minds from the space agency.

"I was very fortunate that the teams I worked with were extremely competent people who were also very nice.

"Think of it as a F1 car. We are not Lewis Hamilton. We are in the factory designing and building the car so it does what it needs to do," he quipped, in reference to the minute attention to detail needed to ensure that nothing went wrong with the telescopes once they were in space.

Elaborating on his work with the sunshield on the James Webb Telescope, Satyan stressed it was crucial as the satelitte operated at a temperature of -230°C, and any sudden exposure of heat could risk damaging it.

Having the shield is one thing, folding and unfolding sheets the size of five tennis courts if another challenge altogether. The systems Satyan helped design ensures the shield always faces the sun, keeping the telescope from danger.

According to him, the initial three weeks after the telescope's launch to space last December was nerve-wracking, as he had to constantly contact his colleagues in NASA for updates.

"It’s not like fixing a phone where you download an update and everything’s working again. If the telescope is broken, you can’t bring it to the shop to have it fixed."

Satyan said that the James Webb Space Telescope is an important achievement for humanity as it does not only help scientists understand the universe, and our origins, better.

Source: FMT
Photos source: FMT