U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben


Intergalactic Inspiration

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

It’s been a big week for the Free State: We had Early Voting for the Gubernatorial Primary Elections. The Orioles are back to .500 for the first time in forever. And the amazing crew at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt unveiled a time machine!

That time machine, otherwise known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), has delivered the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe so far. On Tuesday, my wife Myrna and I got the rare privilege of joining my former Senate colleague and current NASA Administrator Bill Nelson – who is also a former astronaut – to help celebrate the release of the first five scientific images from the telescope.

The very first image released by NASA, a “deep field” of a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723, is teeming with thousands of galaxies. It’s simply incredible to see thousands of galaxies in a single frame!

Notably, the image shows the galaxy cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, with many more galaxies in front of and behind the cluster.

Light from these galaxies took billions of years to reach us. It’s almost unbelievable: We are now able to literally look back in time to within a billion years after the big bang when viewing the youngest galaxies in this field.

Other images released yesterday reveal “cosmic cliffs,” glittering landscapes left by the birth of stars, the seemingly insatiable appetite of black holes, and the final moments of dying stars. Some of the images have unveiled the steamy surfaces of faraway planets in fine detail, while others have shed new light on the evolution of galaxies.

Witnessing the unveiling of these images was as inspirational as meeting some of the people who came together to make the telescope possible. As with so many significant advancements, the James Webb Space Telescope was truly enabled by the power of partnerships.  

It took an international effort to launch the successful mission, with the European and Canadian space agencies collaborating with NASA, but I was especially proud to learn of just how many Marylanders were involved in the mission. Aside from the core staff at NASA Goddard, employees at Northrup Grumman and other private companies played significant roles. Researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University were involved closely with many aspects of the mission. In fact, it was a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of JHU who led the selection and production of the first images released by the JWST. Their involvement will be critical throughout the next two decades of this mission.

I am intensely proud of the Maryland congressional delegation for helping us reach this point. Way back to when Senator Barbara A. Mikulski led the delegation, Maryland’s team in Congress has helped beat back threat after threat to the funding for NASA missions. This was true during the launch and subsequent corrective vision operation for the predecessor of the JWST, the Hubble Space Telescope, without which there would be no Webb telescope. And it was the delegation’s ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill that kept the JWST on track in recent years, too. Frequently eyed for funding cuts, there simply would be no intergalactic revelations like those we witnessed Tuesday without the work of our congressional delegation.

So to be flanked by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Steny Hoyer and David Trone on stage at NASA Goddard on Tuesday was an especially poignant reminder of the remarkable power of Team Maryland to deliver for its constituents, this nation, and the body of scientific knowledge. That is a considerable responsibility and not one that we take lightly. But, as we saw on such crystal-clear display at NASA Goddard this week, anything is possible when you reach for the stars.

For those of you who would like to see the NASA JWST images for themselves, you can do so here. And for those who would like to sample the recent celebration at NASA, footage of the event is available here.

Thank you for your time. Please stay safe and remember to vote – Gubernatorial Primary Election Day is Tuesday.

Thank you.


Ben Cardin