Interview with Dr. H. Philip Stahl; Senior Optical Physicist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Square & Compass Promotions
4 min readMar 6, 2023
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

To be a Freemason is to be a life-long learner…especially in the areas of the Liberal Arts and Sciences…ESPECIALLY in the area of geometry.

Space exploration, especially as it relates to our modern understanding of the universe, is inexorably connected to ideas of and related to geometry (along with other areas of science).

Square & Compass has had the pleasure of interviewing several NASA (and other) scientists regarding space exploration, modern understandings of space and the universe, and the ways in which geometry informs our understanding of the universe.

We are proud on this date to present our interview with Dr. H. Philip Stahl, Senior Optical Physicist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. For Freemasons in particular, his explanation as to the connections between geometry and space exploration are fascinating!

  1. Start with the basics-who are you and what is your position within NASA?

See my biography below

Dr. H. Philip Stahl is a Senior Optical Physicist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center maturing technologies to design, manufacture, test, and control ultra-stable high-precision large-aperture space telescopes to image exoplanets. Previously, he was responsible for developing mirror technologies for the Webb Space Telescope and overseeing the manufacture, test and certification of the Webb primary, secondary and tertiary mirrors.

Dr. H. Philip Stahl is a leading authority in optical systems engineering and optical metrology with over 40 years of experience on large-aperture and segmented-mirror telescopes. Many of the world’s largest telescopes have been made with the aid of instantaneous, high-speed and infrared phase-measuring Interferometers developed by him, including the Webb Space Telescope, Keck Observatory, Very Large Telescope, and Gemini telescopes. He discovered and funded the development of the 4D PhaseCAM technology. He was responsible for ensuring that the Webb mirrors met their specifications, including personally solving problems related to PMSA edge testing and ACF calibration. And he is author of the ‘Stahl’ parametric cost model for ground and space telescopes.

Since joining NASA in 1999, Dr. Stahl has managed SBIR Sub-Topics and technology development contracts resulting in the creation of new companies and dozens of new jobs. He has co-author Agency technology roadmap documents. And he originated and organizes the annual Mirror Technology Days in the Government Workshop.

2. Freemasonry can be and is connected to ideas related to space exploration, especially as Freemasonry encourages the study of the liberal arts and sciences. Also, many geometric principles (the basis of our art) connect to space exploration (i.e.-general theory of relativity). In this day and age, why is space exploration important?

NASA Astrophysics Division seeks to answer three fundamental questions:

  • How did we get here? How did the universe form and change over time?
  • Where are we going? What is the future of the universe?
  • Are we alone? Is there life on other planets?

The Webb Telescope is specifically designed to make studies to inform each of these questions.

  • The Webb telescopes primary science mission is to look for the first luminous objects of the universe. The first stars and study what happens to them. When they explode do they create black holes? How do they form into galaxies? Etc.
  • Webb is also studying stellar and planetary system formation
  • And, studying the chemistry of planetary systems.

3. In what ways are Geometry and Space/Space Exploration connected? How does one affect the other?

The most interesting connection between geometry and space is gravity. Gravity stretches and distorts space. Maybe you have heard of gravitational lenses in space caused by massive objects changing how light travels through the space around that object. Also, gravitational fields in space sometimes cause the easiest path between two points to be something other than a straight line.

4. Square & Compass previously interviewed Jason Rhodes re: the Euclid Project (a very Masonic name). How is that project progressing & what is NASA’s involvement therein?

I have no personal insight into Euclid other than I know it exists. And, that the amount of micrometeoroid impacts it experienced during its first year of operation was more than what was expected. This knowledge helped inform micrometeoroid impact expectations for the Webb Telescope.

6. What most excites you about space exploration and about where NASA and the space sciences are headed?

Currently NASA is building the Roman Space Telescope to:

Search for Dark energy and dark matter — need to understand both why the universe looks as it does today and is the universe’s future

  • Search for and image exoplanets — Jupiter class.
  • Observe in the near-infrared.

Roman is a survey telescope. To map the universe, its field of view will be 200 times greater than Hubble. Its camera will be just a sensitive as Hubble. And, one Roman image will contain as much detail as 100 Hubble images.

The National Academy of Sciences have laid out a very challenging and exciting roadmap for future space missions:

· Habitable World Observatory to study Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around Sun-like stars.

  • Far-Infared Probe to study the chemistry of planetary system formation
  • X-Ray Probe to study black-holes and high-energy drives of galaxy formation and stellar activity

7. What most concerns you about space exploration and about where NASA and the space sciences are headed?

When out stakeholders (Public and Congress) see the amazing success of missions such as Webb, Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble, they don’t see (or forget) how incredibly difficult these missions were to design and build — this can give them an unrealistic expectation of how long it will take or how much it will cost to do the next mission — or if the next mission even technologically feasible.

All opinions expressed are those of Square & Compass Promotions and the guest(s), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Windsor Masonic Temple and/or any other masonic group.



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Square & Compass Promotions explores the many ways in which Freemasonry is relevant to our communities. We share both Masonic & Personal stories.