How NASA's James Webb Space Telescope project chief used Jimmy Buffett quotes to thank mission team

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope separates from its Ariane 5 rocket with the bright blue Earth in the background in this view captured after its launch on Dec. 25, 2021.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope separates from its Ariane 5 rocket with the bright blue Earth in the background in this view captured after its launch on Dec. 25, 2021. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Turns out that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope project manager is a self-described "parrot head."

The term is a playful reference to fans of calypso singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who project manager Bill Ochs recently quoted when congratulating the Webb Space Telescope team. (For his part, Buffett was said to once call his fans "parrot heads" after seeing several at a concert with parrots on their heads; the term stuck.)

The $10 billion Webb observatory lifted off Dec. 25 following years of development delays and budget overruns. Happily, however, Webb has been doing well during its complex six-month space deployment so far, with only minor issues to report. The space telescope reached its observing point nearly 1 million miles from Earth on Monday (Jan. 24).

"As folks on Webb know, I'm a pretty big Jimmy Buffett fan," Ochs said in a blog post published Thursday (Jan. 27) by NASA, in which he said the only reason the complex deployment looked easy was the years of preparation by his team.

Live updates: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope mission

Ochs said he recently heard Buffett's song "Book on the Shelf" while in the car. The song, released in 2020, is a very recent entry in Buffett's decades-long career that dates at least as far back as the late 1960s. 

While Buffett is better known for tunes such as "Margaritaville," however, Ochs said "Book" perfectly described the resilience of the Webb team. Sample lines Ochs quoted include: "I'm so damn lucky to have an all-star crew / Some stoic, some crazy, some just passing through."

Ochs thanked his team for all of their hard work so far. "It has been about a month since launch, and it has been an unbelievable ride. I am so filled with pride for our team," he said.

Webb's latest commissioning stage was turning on its science instruments, which is taking place as the observatory continues to align its mirrors and otherwise get ready to perform operational science work sometime in June, should the schedule continue to hold.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: