Recent space discoveries subject of NASA scientist’s presentation

Frank Sulzman is retired, but he hasn’t fully left NASA behind.

The former NASA scientist gives lectures on the agency’s recent finds and studies to stay connected to his life’s passion — space.

In his most recent talk, he explored the intriguing objectives of the Webb Telescope with an audience of area residents on May 2 at the Bird Key Yacht Club.

“I looked it up to know a little more about the telescope before this talk,” said Bird Key Yacht Club Vice Commodore Michael Landis. “The pictures were absolutely stunning. The fact that we get to experience a talk from such a bright mind and an expert is amazing.

“The Webb Space Telescope. I’m going to try to convince you is one of the greatest things NASA has ever done in humanity,” said Sulzman in his presentation.

The James Webb Space Telescope

Image courtesy of NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched in 2021 with the ability to observe faraway objects in space and better understand the early universe. Its high-resolution and high-sensitivity instruments capture photos that help scientists see how galaxies and stars change over time and the characteristics of other planets and worlds.

With the Webb Telescope, NASA can observe the atmosphere of different planets and their moons, black holes and other objects that are too old, distant and faint for detection by its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Sulzman explained that the telescope was not named after a NASA scientist but after the attorney and businessman, James Webb. Webb was appointed as a NASA administrator by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 because of his commitment to science.

Webb insisted that NASA go beyond human spaceflight and become a science agency in its early days. Under his leadership, famous programs were initiated such as the Mars rovers, Pathfinder and Voyager programs.

Frank Sulzman spoke to Bird Key Yacht Club on May 1.

Photo by Petra Rivera

Sulzman said that the Webb Telescope might be instrumental in discovering intelligent life on other planets and in other galaxies. Its photos capturing clues, such as the atmosphere of different planets, have led scientists to suspect life exists outside Earth. An example of this is water that spouts from the atmosphere of one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, creating similar atmospheres to Earth and the ability to support intelligent life.

“I think Webb is going to inspire people to think more about the sky and the universe,” said Sulzman. “Not only just enjoy the beauty in itself, but also stimulate us to ask these questions like ‘Where does this all come from? What does it mean? Where is it going?’ I think the Webb is really going to benefit us over the next 10 years. It’s already produced things that were unexpected.”

Originally from New York, Sulzman received his doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He did his postdoctoral research at Harvard and an exchange program in the biophysics department at Moscow State University.

After serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, he joined NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, in 1985 to manage the NASA biomedical research program. He retired from NASA in 2013 after holding several leadership positions, mostly in life sciences.

The Wreath of a Star Formation taken by the Webb Space Telescope

Image courtesy of ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus

Now Sulzman lives on Longboat Key and is a part of the oldest men’s golf group on the Key, the Friars. He plays with Bird Key Yacht Club member Jim Hanes, who connected him with the club.

After retiring, Sulzman wanted to stay connected to research projects at NASA. He said giving talks about recent studies allows him to continue to be a lifelong learner and stay involved with the agency.

Sulzman shared that although he learned from and contributed to many studies while working for NASA, his favorite part was the people he worked with.

“My favorite part of the job was working with the current investigators,” said Sulzman. “They came from all over the country and all over the world. I always just worked with them, hearing their ideas, their perspective and their background. It made all the difference for the work we were doing.”

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