NASA Selects Groups to Guide ‘Habitable Worlds Observatory’ Activities, Invites Community Participation

NASA has selected 56 individuals to participate in groups that will guide maturation activities for the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO). HWO is a concept for a NASA flagship mission, as recommended by the 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey, that would pursue a breadth of astrophysics goals, including searching for and characterizing potentially habitable planets beyond our solar system. The planning teams will convene their first meetings Oct. 31 – Nov. 2, 2023, in the Washington, D.C., area. All interested members of the community are invited to attend remotely, to learn more about how to get involved in HWO concept maturation efforts.

“These teams will bring together a diverse, experienced group of individuals to serve as community representatives,” said Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We received an incredible amount of interest from the broader community, and the selected members are tasked with tapping into those perspectives to ensure they’re well-represented in our efforts. We look forward to the work they will do to help advance NASA’s exploration of the universe and search for life, and the capabilities they will help enable for the next generation of our field.”

The 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey recommended HWO as NASA’s next flagship Astrophysics mission after the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. HWO would be the first NASA mission designed specifically to look for signs of life on potentially habitable exoplanets, all while contributing to our broader understanding of the cosmos.

To inform future flagships such as HWO, NASA established a “Great Observatory Mission and Technology Maturation Program” (GOMAP). GOMAP will focus on advancing technologies NASA has previously invested in and implement lessons learned from past missions, with the HWO concept as its first focus.

Two groups will guide the GOMAP activities for HWO: a Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) and a Technical Assessment Group (TAG). Each will liaise with the broader science, technology, and engineering community to help establish the concept’s fundamental science goals and explore how best to pursue them.

“This is an extremely exciting time for astrophysics and planetary science, and we’re eager to work with the community to advance HWO,” said START Co-Chair Courtney Dressing, assistant professor of astronomy and holder of the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair at the University of California, Berkeley. “Just as thousands of people were involved in the planning for the James Webb Space Telescope, a mission like HWO will require participation from scientists and engineers around the world. Early-career researchers are particularly encouraged to get involved because they will become the leaders and users of future flagship astrophysics missions.”

The START will quantify HWO’s science objectives based on the Decadal Survey’s guidance and outline the observatory and instrument capabilities needed to accomplish them. The START co-chairs are as follows:

  • Courtney Dressing, University of California, Berkeley
  • John O’Meara, W. M. Keck Observatory

The TAG will study architecture options for HWO, identify and assess the mission architectures and technologies needed to enable those options, and evaluate the risks associated with those options. The TAG co-chairs are as follows:

  • Lee Feinberg, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Bertrand Mennesson, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • Aki Roberge, NASA Goddard
  • John Ziemer, NASA JPL

The full list of START and TAG members is available here.

“I’m beyond excited to work with this amazing team and the larger community we will build, to take the first critical steps towards the Habitable Worlds Observatory,” said START Co-Chair John O’Meara, deputy director and chief scientist, W. M. Keck Observatory. “HWO aims to help tell the story of life in the universe and dramatically push the boundaries of knowledge in astrophysics, cosmology, exoplanet studies, and our solar system neighborhood. This initial work for the HWO concept will also help redefine how we plan and execute flagship missions to be smarter with the resources we have and to maintain scientific leadership. I can’t wait to begin.”

The planning teams will also establish a mentorship program, with START and TAG members serving as mentors to early-career individuals. The mentorship program will provide career development and networking opportunities to support the growth and involvement of future HWO experts, to broaden and diversify the set of institutions and individuals connected to HWO.

Information on how to connect to the inaugural START and TAG meetings will be posted online. For that and more about GOMAP and the HWO concept, visit: