Webb Launch Rewind

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, 20+ years in the making, is the largest, most complex telelscope ever launched into space. After launch, it deployed from its compact launch cocoon configuration into its fully unfurled, now iconic, operational configuration successfully moving through hundreds of potential opportunities for mission-ending failure. WhereIsWebb and it's companion pages tracked it all, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day for 7.5 months. This page explains a bit of its history, the design thinking and presents some measures of it's success.

ON THIS PAGE: Summary | Screenshots & Live Links| Statistics | Audience Feedback | Team

Launch through First Images organized, simplified, visualized, and tracked this long and complex process engaging users with constant updates during the entire 6 month process. WebbLaunch is now in a post commissioning mostly static state, so this page recreates the story of how the WebbLaunch subsite tracked Webb and highlights the utility and daily excitement it gave our users. The hub and daily "Go To" page for our users was the "Where Is Webb?" page recreated above in its early commissioning version with data simulating a few days after launch.

Massive Amounts of Information

All eyes were on Webb as it underwent the most complex deployment sequence NASA ever attempted. How do you communciate these detailed engineering processes in a compact, understandable, usable and engaging form that is flexible enough to handle and integrate a wide range of content that changes for each commissioning phase. How do you inform and satisfy a diverse audience profile including the general public, the "in the know" NASA/technical/science fan base, and peer level engineering and science community. We think we succeeded, but more importantly our audience feedback and web statistics tell us we succeeded.

Capture the Moment - WhereIsWebb?

Start with Now. Where is Webb now? and what's going on? To answer this, we created a daily "go to" hub page that showed the current state of Webb at any moment in the 6 month commissioning process. We made it visually interesting, quickly assimilated and fun to interact with. Over its lifetime, the WhereIsWebb page provided tracking of everything from Webb's flight, to on board temperatures, to instrument check outs. WhereIsWebb integrated with other pages to provide context showing the "big picture" around the current state/step as well as deep dive information.

Read More

What's Next? the Big Picture.

Beyond the current moment, the Webb Deployment Explorer allowed users to interactively explore the entire timeline of steps in the commissioning process. The page cleverly integrated with WhereIsWebb, sharing data and always openned to the current step in the timeline showing users its place in the overall process. Users could get a quick update of adjacent past steps and look forward to next steps or explore the entire timeline. If they started on the Deployment Explorer they could easily jump to the WhereIsWebb page for current state details.

Read More

If It Moved, We Tracked It.'s coverage of the launch and commissioning was a crucial cornerstone of NASA’s efforts to present the mission fully and transparently to the public. This breadth and depth of the information kept our audience coming back, our site traffic was impressive, and our users profusely thanked us for all the information shared.

  • countdown,
  • launch,
  • deployment steps - with constant detailed status updates,
  • flight to L2- distance tracking,
  • commissioning schedule/timeline,
  • temperature cooldown to near absolute zero,
  • 3d Webb located in the 3d solar system,
  • mirror segment deployments,
  • mirror 7 step alignment process,
  • instrument mode testing and verification,
  • first image releases.

Read More

Statistics For Webb.Nasa.Gov

  • Launch - Dec 25, 2021

    115.5 million page views during Launch Week (Dec 25-31, 2021)
  • Major Deployments - Jan 2022

    361.5 million page views for the month
  • TOTAL: Launch - First Images

    >650 million page views in 8 months
  • Most Popular NASA Pages:

    WhereIsWebb was one of the most viewed pages in all of NASA for the YEAR.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of Flattery:

    WhereIsWebb was highlighted and tracked step by step at NewsWeek, BBC and many other news organizations. It was a valuable tool for media. It was also copied and live streamed by dozens of YouTube channels with 10's of thousands of viewers each for the duration of commissioning.

    Webb Deployment Explorer & WhereIsWebb deployment timeline and realtime content updates were copied and repackaged by countless news organizations, articles and websites around the world.

Where Is Webb

WhereIsWebb changed many times during its lifetime. It is now in a steady state of "Science Operations" and does not reflect all that it offered users in real time throughout commissioning. These screenshots and links to the web archive "way back machine" provide a glimpse into its many incarnations and some of its functionality.



Here, Where Is Webb in its initial state released just days before launch day to tease users into the kind of information we would provide. The initial configuration tracked most importantly the flight to L2 as well as some hot and cold side temps, it showed the current state on a timeline of the 30 day flight to L2.

WhereIsWebb 12-24-2021 on WayBack Machine

Note: the "way back machine" failed to capture timeline current location and icons, and current deployment state panels but many of the other features (flight to L2 in days/distance, temperature cooldown tracking and interactive charting, 3d Webb in 3d Solar system and more all work).



On this panel you can see the flight to L2 and temperature tracking are in full swing (*1). Note the current state "locator" icon (*2) reveals Webbs location on the timeline and within the current deployment phase on timeline in launch + Days mode (*3 ) during its 30 day flight to L2. The detail panel contains status information and links that are updated throughout the deployment steps/phases (*4).

WhereIsWebb 01-03-2021 on WayBack Machine


Time vs Distance Path to L2

Where Is Webb was a fluid living design. We added features throughout the commissioning phase. You can see here by mid deployment we added a DAYS/DISTANCE toggle on the timeline to give 2 ways of looking at the deployment schedule and flight to L2 (*5).

WhereIsWebb 01-03-2021 on WayBack Machine


Drilling Down

The timeline and location differences between the Launch+Days timeline and the % of trip complete are notably different and instructive as to the different ways of looking at this data. It also reveals that Webb completed a large percentage of its journey in just the first week or so of its 30 day flight. This revealed that Webb was dramatically slowing its forward speed during flight to slide into its L2 orbit. These sorts of facts were explained in the many "help/info" panels available on the page which interested users could drill down into for explanation and clarification of the presentation.

WhereIsWebb 01-03-2021 on WayBack Machine


The Webb Deployment Explorer allowed users to interactively explore the entire timeline of steps in the commissioning process. The clever integration of the Deployment Explorer and WhereIsWebb interactives provided users with an easy back and forth between the "now" and "the big picture", past and future.


At any time the user can jump from WhereIsWebb to the Deployment Explorer to see where the current state (detailed on WhereIsWebb) lies in the over all process. Note the current state is highlighted and the user can then navigate left to past states or right to upcoming states.

Each step was a dynamically built panel with an image, an "elevator speech" description, overall schedule/status along with drill down links to animations, videos, regularly updated status blogs, press releases, press conferences, previous status updates leading to current state as well as additional deeper dive information links. WhereIsWebb shared this same "current state/step" panel for visual continuity.

Visit the Deployment Explorer at Step Shown


GEEKING OUT: Gory Details

After Webb reached L2, the time/distance tracking of Webb's flight was no longer relevant but the cooldown and temperature profile became the main driver for further steps. The audience still along for the ride at this point is WAY INTO the details. So we deliver.

On this screen you can see that more temperature tracking data was added as well as dynamic interactive plots of the data. Also the timeline/schedule is extended well beyond the arrival at L2 and is now shown in Launch+Weeks along with the many new overlapping commissioning phases. And finally the 3d Webb located in a live data driven 3d solar system was integrated thanks to JPL's Eyes Team.

WhereIsWebb 03-16-2022 on WayBack Machine

Audience Feedback

A few examples from 100s of positive emails:


Sorry to bother you, but I felt compelled to say hello and send my critique of your James Webb Space Telescope website.

I was the first web developer at McDonnell Douglas, now Boeing, in 1994. Before that, I was one of the first to ever move data over the internet to Stanford and MIT while a computer science student at USC in the early 80s. Over those 40+ years I have seen progress that boggles the mind in web development. I just wanted to say that your web site is among the best I’ve ever seen. It is truly a masterpiece of web development. I am now studying astronomy, astrophotography and astrophysics as new hobbies, and enjoy visiting your site often. Stay inspired, and keep up the great work!


Robert E. Rice
Boeing Advanced Systems Research
Mobility, Extended Reality (XR), and Innovation

To: Betz, Laura E. (GSFC-1300)
Subject: [EXTERNAL] website observation; a thx to NASA

LB; One might expect excellence in the software and web developers at NASA, but I just wanted to pass along my thanks for the exceptional work on the web pages for the progress of the Webb as it progresses thru setup procedures. I've seen a gazillion web pages commercial and private and this one is at the top of the list. I'm an amateur astronomer of 60 yrs w a couple back yard observatories and do stuff like collimating my scopes to get good imaging, but doing that in space at -360 degrees w 18 mirrors bends my brain.


Hi to you responsible for this website !

For many years I have been a rather frequent visitor of where I find a lot of interesting things to see, read and learn.

In my opinion, I must say that “” and its content really is one of the most elegant and instructive web-pages I have experienced so far.The “live” update of “Where is Webb” combined with the short animation videos and explanations about the step by step successful deployment and configuration process of the telescope from hour to hour and from day to day has been very exciting to follow.

Ketil Grong,
Bergen, Norway


Subject: [EXTERNAL] No issues, just applause

Whomever made this website did an absolutely amazing job. Everything from the graphics to content is literally the finest I have ever seen.

As a representative of the millions of average people who view this site, thank you!!!
You are making our world a better place through education.

Subject: [EXTERNAL] James Webb tracker website

This is not a question, but a hearty congratulations.

The James Webb launch and deployment has been exciting to watch for science and seeing the culmination of a decades long project. Congratulations to the men and women who's work is presently proving out so successful.

My main reason to write is to say thank you to the team who made the mission tracker website.

I love checking in each day and sharing with friends and family about each successful step of deployment. The interface is easy to read with actual data and images to show each step.
I like being able to track distance and time. Please continue to do this for manned and unmanned missions in the future. It is so well done!

Jon Lovseth


Subject: [EXTERNAL] Kudos

I had a career in IT lasting more than 30 years, and I have to say the JWST website is one of the most awesome I've ever seen!


Subject: [EXTERNAL] JWST Website

Hi Guys,

Whilst I appreciate that you are a part of a massive Team, what an awesome portal of communications you have created, maintained & updated for me/us the 'general public' with the ease of use, clarity and innumerable links for this huge project.

In 2022 pretty much all commerce uses 'The Web' and all things digital, though many sites are still woeful to use/interact with.

Your Teams creation has/is outstanding to use, and to view the many avenues of interest & information.

NASA has and will provide many spin-offs from this & previous missions, but I'm sure that one with huge potential will be your Art of Communication' for commercial/industrial/educational ventures to come.

Many thanks for your enlightenments so far and into the future, your skills have helped 1 of 7.8 billion for sure!

God speed JWST and to all who serve.


New Zealand

Subject: [EXTERNAL] Accolades

Laura, like millions of others, I have watched the launch and deployment of Webb through the “Where is Webb?” site. Without question or doubt, this “Webb site” has to be the clearest, sharpest and smartest piece of digital content ever created. You and your team have done a masterful job of explaining this mission with visually captivating images, explanatory videos and very edifying text. I cannot express how thankful I am for you and your teams excellent efforts. Kudos. I don’t know how many design awards there are for web site programming, but you deserve them all.

Grateful for your efforts,

Gary K. Bradley



Many members of the press expressed thanks and kudos for the level of detailed coverage of the mission on the website. This is rare. Generally the media is asking for "more, more, more".

Perhaps the greatest compliment is when NewsWeek wrote an article highlighting the WhereIsWebb? page. That is, not an article about the mission, but about the website covering the mission!


  • Lead - Strategy, Visual Design, Development, Content :

    Steve Sabia
  • Lead - Management/Strategy/Content:

    Amber Straughn, Maggie Masetti
  • Contributors:

  • Communications Team Leads:

    Laura Betz, Alise Fisher, Karen Fox, Patrick Lynch
  • Technical/Engineering:

    Paul Geithner, Keith Parrish, Lee Feinberg
  • Blog / Feature Articles :

    Thaddeus Ceasari
  • Multimedia Animation/Video/Photography/Time-Lapse :

    Michael McClare, Chris Gunn, Sophia Roberts, Michael Menzel, Adriana Manrique, NASA Conceptual Image Lab Team, Webb Live Stream Team
  • Web Server Architecture and Realtime Tuning:

    Steve Fantasia
  • Other Contributors :

    Peter Sooy, Ellie Jeffries, Mark Cramer, Micheal Lentz, Jenny Mottar, Ryan Schenk, Anita Dey, Alex Lockwood, Chris Britt, and many members of the STScI Team, the GSFC ASD System Admin Team