Image of the James Webb Space Telescope

U-M Space Institute Presents Film ‘Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine’ and Panel Discussion

Join us for a special screening and panel discussion featuring Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen and Film Director Shai Gal with “Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine,” on September 27.

Featuring Film Director Shai Gal and Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen

The U-M Space Institute will host a special screening of “Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine,” on Wednesday, September 27 at 5:30pm, at Stamps Auditorium. The event will feature a screening of the Netflix documentary about the design and launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and a panel discussion featuring Film Director Shai Gal and Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, the previous Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, as well as other experts in space and astronomy.

“Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine” follows the ambitious decades-long mission to create and deploy the largest-ever space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope. The documentary showcases a remarkable team of NASA engineers and scientists as they take a giant leap in trying to understand the mysteries of the universe.

“Documentaries always charge you. They make you wiser, smarter, and they make me love people more. That team at NASA, it’s easy to love them and admire their spirit. This is documenting real history that’s going to be so meaningful for the world. Look at what we’re already seeing a year after the first photo. Dr. Zurbuchen told me that people talk too much about technology — it’s about the people who are willing to push it and take it there.”

Documentary Film Director Shai Gal, Featured Panelist for the U-M Space Institute event | Read the Interview on
Film Director Shai Gal

In 2013, Gal participated in the Knight-Wallace Fellowship for Journalists at the University of Michigan, when he met Zurbuchen, who worked as a professor at the U-M Department of Climate and Space and other departments. Zurbuchen would later become the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. They became good friends and began running together on campus, when Gal suggested the two work on a project together. Zurbuchen pitched the idea of filming NASA’s journey to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, the most expensive mission yet, and the documentary film “Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine” is the result. 

“The University of Michigan Space Institute is thrilled to host the screening of ‘Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine’ and to welcome back our former colleague Thomas Zurbuchen and the movie’s director, Shai Gal,” said U-M Space Institute Director Chris Ruf. “The James Webb Space Telescope is both an engineering marvel and an enabler of groundbreaking new scientific discoveries, and we will be treated to hearing about both at this event.”

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen
Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen

As director of the U-M Space Institute, Chris Ruf will introduce and present the program, touching on the role of the University of Michigan as a hub of space-related research. Lynette Clemetson, the Charles R. Eisendrath Director of the Wallace House Center for Journalists, will moderate the panel discussion about the creation of the film, the launch of the telescope, and the journey in between.

Panelists will include:

  • Film Director Shai Gal, Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow
  • Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, who provided leadership for the mission during his time as Associate Administrator of NASA’ Science Mission Directorate and previously taught at U-M Climate & Space
  • Professor Michael Meyer (U-M Astronomy) — Professor Meyer began working on the JWST in 1997 and is a member of two instrument teams and several other science teams using the telescope to understand the origins of stars and planets.
  • Professor Emily Rauscher (U-M Astronomy) — Professor Rauscher is a leading expert in modeling the atmospheres of planets around other stars, and is a member of several teams using the JWST to understand the formation, structure, and evolution of these diverse worlds.

The program is subject to change.

Admission to the event is free, but registration is required due to limited seating.

Register online at Sessions@Michigan

Event: Film Screening and Panel Discussion
Date and Time: Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 5:30 pm
Location: Stamps Auditorium, Walgreen Drama Center, 1226 Murfin Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Due to construction on campus, there will be limited parking spaces near the venue so please plan ahead by viewing the North Campus parking map.

The Space Institute is the central focal point of space-related research across the entire University of Michigan campus, where stakeholders are encouraged to collaborate creatively and effectively with colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds.

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