NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Bringing History into Focus: Inside A Moment with a NASA Photographer and Video Producer

  • By Maggie Masetti
  • August 29, 2016
  • Comments Off on Bringing History into Focus: Inside A Moment with a NASA Photographer and Video Producer

Today we have a special guest blog written by Laura Betz about two of our talented co-workers – I’ll let Laura introduce herself! – Maggie

I’m Laura Betz, and I work on the James Webb Space Telescope with Maggie Masetti, one of your regular Blueshift bloggers. Part of my job is to write about JWST, and recently I got the chance to sit down with two people with really unique jobs on the project. I thought you all would enjoy hearing about what they do. As you may know from Maggie’s blogs, JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and right now we are building it here at NASA Goddard.

Every time photographer Chris Gunn and video producer Mike McClare go to work to document JWST, they need to enter our massive cleanroom. To do that they suit up in special clean room suits and have their equipment cleaned by technicians.

Once inside the room, technicians and engineers take center stage. Their work revolves around the engineering team’s rigorous schedule and they’re challenged to capture the different stages of construction. Life in the cleanroom is meticulously monitored so that the telescope’s construction will be achieved without any contamination or interference.

Chris told me how they recently had the rare opportunity to set the lighting of this impressive room for the first time, to illuminate JWST’s huge gold-coated mirror. “We wanted to bring out the drama of the telescope. For image-makers being able to control the light in a situation was pretty cool.”

Chris stood poised to capture the mirror from an upper deck, while he and his team communicated with lighting and clean room techs to light the mirror so it could be visible in the dark.

Chris Gunn at Work

Chris Gunn capturing the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/Jolearra Tshiteya

Low Light James Webb Space Telescope
A low light photo Chris captured of JWST. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn.

Chris’s job isn’t just about taking beauty shots though. On a daily basis, he takes photographs to help the engineers and technicians look back at their work. The photos serve as a document of every step of the process of building this incredible machine.

“This is definitely a dream job. We still have the opportunity to photograph something really special that humans have built. I always remind myself that,” Chris told me. “This is about your eye and how you see the world. Having a passion for the subject matter really helps.”

With a video camera hiked over his shoulder, Mike McClare coordinated with the team for lighting his own shots as well. A key part of the JWST project, McClare’s videos and time-lapses are featured worldwide.

Here is a timelapse captured by Mike of JWST’s mirror being rotated and positioned for instrument installation:

“We had high degree of difficulty capturing these shots. Chris and I were given only 4-hours overnight so as not to impede the project. We had no ability to pre-test camera angles or lighting; the date for this brief opportunity changed on a daily basis, and not to forget, this was done inside a cleanroom, meaning all our gear had to be approved and cleaned for use in it,” Mike told me. “Chris and I seem to thrive on challenges.”

Mike McClare at Work

Mike McClare shooting a video of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/Jolearra Tshiteya.

Much of Mike’s job has a similar purpose to Chris’s – to document every aspect of the project. “We are ready to capture significant Webb telescope events on a moment’s notice as the schedule often can be very fluid,” Mike said. “Like with my work on Hubble, every five years we look back on Hubble’s achievements and we are always going back at the video archives. The images and video we capture of Webb today become the images used in future decades to tell the Webb story. I take this responsibility seriously. I’m proud that my material has made an impact in the consciousness of people. It’s pretty amazing to see video I captured resonate with the public.”

If you want to read more about the James Webb Space Telescope mission, including progress updates, you can check out our website, or our social media. We’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

Lighting the James Webb Space Telescope

Lighting the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/Jolearra Tshiteya.


Comments are closed.

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration