NASA selects new head of science for the James Webb Space Telescope

a person wearing glasses on stage in front of a sign reading "Webb space telescope"
(Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA has announced a new senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Jane Rigby has taken the reins from John Mather, who has held the position since 1995. Rigby was one of the scientists who helped get the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) up and running in space, and steps into her new role with years of experience already working on the telescope in different capacities, according to a NASA statement announcing Rigby's new position. 

Among her other involvements with JWST, Dr. Rigby led the team to certify the telescope's scientific capabilities during its pre-operational time in space. JWST launched on December 25, 2021, and began official operations in July 2022. The satellite is the largest, most powerful telescope ever built, and has capabilities beyond those of its space-fairing predecessors, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. 

Related: James Webb Space Telescope celebrates 1st year of science with jaw-dropping view of cosmic nursery (photo)

As new senior project scientist for the telescope, Rigby brings a lot to the table. She holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from University of Arizona, as well as degrees in physics and astrophysics from Penn State. Her ongoing research has involved the development of new techniques for observing galaxy lifecycles, star formation and galactic nuclei. 

In addition to JWST's characterization of science performance commission, Rigby has authored more than 140 peer-reviewed publications. She was also awarded the Out to Innovate 2022 LGBT+ Scientist of the Year.

Assistant Director of Science at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Michelle Thaller, left, speaks with NASA James Webb Space Telescope Operations Project Scientist Jane Rigby, right, about the Webb Deep Field image as it is shown on screen during a broadcast releasing the telescope’s first full-color images, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

"This mission is seeing the universe in a whole new way," Rigby said in the NASA statement. "I'm so excited to lead this amazing team, as we maximize the science return from the most powerful telescope humanity has ever built."

As for Mather, he will be staying on as senior project scientist emeritus. Having guided JWST since its infancy, his passion for the project hasn't diminished. 

"I'll be enjoying every minute of the team's amazing results and cheering for our successes," Mather said in the NASA statement, adding, "I'll be traveling and telling the world what we are doing. And I'll be working on what's next for NASA — I'm not retiring a bit.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Josh Dinner
Writer, Content Manager

Josh Dinner is's Content Manager. He is a writer and photographer with a passion for science and space exploration, and has been working the space beat since 2016. Josh has covered the evolution of NASA's commercial spaceflight partnerships, from early Dragon and Cygnus cargo missions to the ongoing development and launches of crewed missions from the Space Coast, as well as NASA science missions and more. He also enjoys building 1:144 scale models of rockets and human-flown spacecraft. Find some of Josh's launch photography on Instagram and his website, and follow him on Twitter, where he mostly posts in haiku.