Kenneth Sembach

Letter from the Director

Dr. Ken Sembach reflects on the myriad ways STScI staff have successfully adapted to the changing field of astronomy, developing innovative tools and techniques to support our missions and our community.


As 2019 comes to a close, we are looking forward to a future in which STScI serves the astronomical community and the public in new and innovative ways. We are on a remarkable journey with the astronomical community, one that merges observations, numerical simulations, theory, laboratory work, and data science into scientific knowledge. Astronomy is changing before our eyes, and we intend to change along with it so that we can help humanity unlock the secrets of the universe with advanced tools, techniques, and data. Whether it is conducting cutting-edge research, tackling complex mission support work, or sharing astronomical discoveries with the world, we are committed to promoting an inclusive, equitable workplace and cultivating a diverse, engaged workforce.

The pace of our work picked up this year and will continue to accelerate as we approach the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021. Launch rehearsals and commissioning preparations are in full swing, and our teams are busily preparing for the first cycle of observations with this amazing machine. While the prospects of what is to come with Webb are an obvious source of motivation, there are many exciting things to look forward to in the near term—the 30th anniversary of Hubble observations this coming spring, the maturation of WFIRST as a Great Observatory, the results of the 2020 Decadal Survey, and greater attention to efforts to enhance the scientific potential of the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.

In this year’s report, you’ll find some wonderful examples of the ways in which we are striking out in new directions. Whether it is pushing Hubble to its limits, finding ways to “hear” the universe, manipulating starlight to make it possible to study Earth-analogs orbiting nearby stars, or any other of the numerous activities described herein, I am certain you’ll find something that piques your interest.

We do not yet know what the new year will bring, but if it is anything like this one I am sure it will be both rewarding and full of surprises. Looking forward!