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Unfolding The Universe


“Unfolding the Universe: A James Webb Space Telescope VR Experience” is a work created in commemoration of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and in coordination with the James Webb Space Telescope team.

In the months leading up to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope the world remained subject to COVID-19 restrictions. Maggie Masetti, the curator of “Unfolding the Universe: First Light”, worked with artist Ashley Zelinskie to design a Webb experience that could be experienced remotely by the public. This was the genesis of Zelinskie’s first virtual reality artwork.

This virtual installation includes 3D animated sculpture and interactive portraits of the James Webb Space Telescope scientists and engineers. Sound mapping technology is used to trigger interviews between the artist and the scientist upon confronting the interactive portrait. The work honors the extraordinary humans behind Webb and their decade-long stories of creating the telescope.

The operatic soundscape was produced in collaboration with sound conceptualist, composer, and performer JU-EH using ethereal sounds and a countdown to launch.

The award winning team at Metaxu.studio worked one-on-one with Zelinskie to produce James Webb-inspired digital architecture. The space combines a point cloud architectural exterior with gold hexagonal tile flooring, all situated in the vastness of space. The architecture features several wings surrounding a central atrium, allowing for intimate encounters with the Webb team portraits, and one wing was purpose built for hosting VR events with the Webb team members.

The VR space was launched along with Webb on Christmas Day 2021. For months thereafter Ashley, Maggie, and the Metaxu.studio team hosted virtual events with Webb Telescope scientists and engineers. The Webb team members gave virtual slide presentations as VR avatars and answered live questions from people all over the world.

The Mozilla Hubs platform proved ideal for hosting the VR world and events, as they can be experienced with or without a headset, require no prior experience in VR, and allow anyone with an internet connection to participate.

Participating Webb team members included:

Dr. Amber Straughn (NASA Goddard)

Dr. Conor Nixon (NASA Goddard)

Elaine Stewart (NASA Goddard)

Dr. Intae Jung (NASA Goddard)

Dr. John C Mather (NASA Goddard)

Kan Yang (NASA Goddard)

Dr. Knicole Colón (NASA Goddard)

Krystal Puga (Northrop Grumman)

Larkin Carey (Ball Aerospace)

Dr. Naomi Rowe-Gurney (NASA Goddard)

Paul Geithner (NASA Goddard)

Dr. Sarah Kendrew (European Space

Work displayed in this exhibition includes:

The Expanding Universe

Southern Ring Nebula


She Signs Her Work in Stars

Southern Ring Nebula

Search for Another World

Cartwheel Galaxy

Deep Field

Stephan’s Quintet

La Danse

Birth, Rebirth