Costa Ricans Joe and Alex Mora were two of the NASA /JPL aerospace technicians who helped build the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which was launched into space on December 25, 2021. The JWST is a space telescope developed by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The $10 billion telescope is designed to study the earliest stars in the universe and other cosmic mysteries. It is the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space.
I had the opportunity to converse with Joe Mora ( who grew up in the San Jose suburb of San Antonio de Desamparados along with his brother Alex) about his role in this monumental project.
How did you get involved in the James Webb Space Telescope project and what was your role?
After working for six months on the Mars Science Laboratory at Cape Canaveral and my return to the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, I was asked to help out for no more than 6 months on a project called the James Webb Space Telescope JWST. They were in need of experienced technicians to perform building, assembly and testing of flight hardware, specifically the MIRI instrument which it required to travel to Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center and Northrop Grumman Aerospace. My role as a technician included fabrication, orbital welding, proof/leak and pressure testing on flight hardware cryogenic work and overall environmental testing of the instrument.
How did you feel when the rocket with the telescope was launched on Christmas Day?
It was an incredible feeling of happiness and pride to see the Telescope finally launch after 10 years of very hard work. It was actually bittersweet for me really, because it meant moving on to other new and exciting programs but it also meant saying goodby to really good friends and colleagues!
Why did they launch the James Webb from the European Space Agency spaceport in French Guyana?
JWST was launched from French Guiana primarily because of a joint effort from the Canadian, European and American space agencies and the undeniable and tremendous size of the telescope. The Ariane 5 rocket was the only choice!
What types of discoveries will be made with the telescope? How will it change our understanding of the universe and our place in it?
We hope that the type of discoveries from this amazing telescope will range from the study of black holes, formation of new galaxies, witnessing the birth of new stars to the possible detection of chemical signatures of life on other planets. Plus we will be that much closer to answering the question about how everything got started with the Big Bang!!
Your brother Alex Mora also worked on James Webb. Please tell us about that.
Yes, Alex worked alongside me for the last 10 years with his incredible working skills in orbital welding, fabrication, his knowledge in cryogenic systems and helium pressure and leak checking and the tedious long hours of environmental chamber testing and support!
What are you working on now Joe?
Right now Bruce I’m working on a program called the Europa Clipper, the mission will place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of its moon (Europa) in the hopes to find evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its crust which could host conditions for life!
You and Alex have had extraordinary careers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ana Luisa and I were honored to have included your stories in our book about Costa Ricans in NASA ( To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA). They were some of the most inspiring stories in the book. Your work has contributed greatly to the exploration of our solar system and beyond and been a shining example for all Costa Ricans. Do you have a message for the students and teachers of your high school in San Antonio de Desamparados?
I would love to send a strong and warm hug to all the students of my beloved high school, Liceo de San Antonio de Desamparados! I have so many wonderful memories of my youth with my dear friends and teachers. To think that that was the beginning of my career as an aerospace technician for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the help of our wonderful teachers that supported and encouraged me to continue to better myself every single day. It truly was a privilege to graduate from this institution, and for that I will always be thankful.
Bruce Callow: Canadian space educator and co-author of the books To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA, To the Stars: Guatemala in Space and The Intrepids