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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Plots To Kill Americans Complicate U.S.-Iran Relations; Chile's Quest To Form A More Perfect Union; Interview With Former Chilean Finance Minister Andres Velasco; Exploring Space And Time Through A Telescope; Interview With NASA Mission Systems Engineer For The Webb Space Telescope Mike Menzel; Ukraine Takes Credit for Explosions in Crimea; China's Sluggish Growth May Pose Risks for Xi Jinping; Reviving Nuclear Deal with Iran. Aired 10 -11a ET

Aired August 21, 2022 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria. I'll be back later with the rest of the show but first let me bring in Jim Sciutto, who's here to tackle the latest news -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Fareed. And hello to all our viewers.

Today on the show, Ukraine is fighting back and hard. How far could Ukrainian counteroffensive go? Also, China's leadership is faced with crisis after crisis, from a troubled economy to a devastating heatwave. And don't forget about Taiwan. Is President Xi in trouble?

Then, Fareed will be back later with the story of a country that is trying to do what some think America needs to do. That is, write a new constitution. And then he'll speak to one of the top scientists responsible for the Webb telescope and those awesome images it has captured.

These videos show explosions that have happened in the last two weeks at Russian military facilities in Crimea, which has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014. One attack at an air base destroyed at least seven Russian warplanes. Ukraine has claimed responsibility for that attack and two others, according to an internal Ukrainian government document obtained by CNN.

Is this evidence that Kyiv is launching a counteroffensive against Russia? And could it gain back territory illegally overtaken by Moscow?

Joining me now is retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling. General Hertling is of course a national security and military analyst for CNN.

General, good to have you on this morning.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Great to be with you this morning, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: So first, let's speak about these attacks inside Crimea. This is territory that's been controlled by Russia for some eight years now. Does Ukraine's ability to strike behind Russian lines in Crimea, around very sensitive military facilities there, show its strength, how much strength and how much of a setback is this for Russia?

HERTLING: Yes, the last couple of weeks have been fascinating, haven't they, Jim? You know, whenever a force changes from defensive to offensive operations, which is what is happening with Ukraine, it changes the dynamics of the battlefield. By going on the offensive, which they have done, Ukraine has regained the initiative and can strike at the time and place of their choosing, instead of just waiting for the Russians to attack.

Russia now realizes they have to defend in more places which further drains their forces from the fight in both the east and in other areas in the south. And that kind of action puts the enemy on its back foot and makes it very tentative to take part in more operations in the future.

And finally, Jim, what I'd say is, you know, as you well know, you've been with soldiers a lot, you know that war is mostly an issue of morale and will. The Russian army has already been assessed to have terrible morale for a variety of reasons. Their leaders have been killed, poor support for the troops, confusion as to the mission. So these attacks will further cause morale problems for the Russian army, while improving the Ukrainian morale because they see the effects of their attack.

SCIUTTO: President Zelenskyy, he's been telegraphing a larger scale counteroffensive particularly in the south. And I wonder from your vantage point, are these attacks -- and by the way, some gains we've seen around for instance Kherson, are they disruptive or could they lead to Ukraine actually taking back and controlling territory that had been taken by Russia?

HERTLING: Can I say all of the above?


HERTLING: You know, in using precise military doctrinal language, a lot of people have been talking about a large counteroffensive or a large-scale counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces. I would push back on that. I don't see that happening any time soon because I don't think the Ukrainian army, from what I used to see over there, dated for sure, but I still don't think they have the capability to conduct a large-scale counteroffensive.

But they will continue to strike, continue to attrite, as they've done, and potentially do a lot of smaller scale counterattacks, which is going to drive the Russians crazy in Kherson province and in other places in the south. And like I said earlier it's just going to cause more confusion on the part of the Russian side.

SCIUTTO: The Pentagon announced this week a new -- yet another really $775 million, nearly billion-dollar military assistance package for Ukraine. This includes ammunition for these high mobility artillery systems known as HIMARS. HIMARS, I have spoken to you, I've spoken to other military analysts, and Ukrainians about this. They really describe this as a potential game changer for the fight in these.


The accuracy, the mobility, the ability to strike behind Russian lines, ammo depots, et cetera. I wonder, in your view, how big of a game changer and could it be a parallel to the effect we saw, for instance, of those javelin anti-tank missiles that they had in the early stages of the invasion?

HERTLING: Yes, saying the HIMARS were to phase two as the javelins were to phase one is exactly the right comparison to make, Jim. But I'd say if we can expand what was in that $750 million package that was just delivered, the most recent tranche, is certainly more HIMARS rocket pods, which tells me the Ukrainians are making a great or having a great effect with their targeting methods, with their intelligence capability and striking targets.

And everyone is focused on HIMARS. That's all you hear on the internet. You know, HIMARS, HIMARS, HIMARS. But most importantly, as we start transitioning into this phase three, which has Ukraine conducting counterattacks and counteroffensives, small-scale counteroffensives, some of the other things in that package were more drones for intelligence collection, more MRAPs and Humvee vehicles, which are critical for the Ukrainian army to maneuver around.

And as importantly, you know, we've talked about javelins before. In this package, there were 1500 TOW missile systems. Now I don't expect your viewers to understand what that is but that's a larger anti-tank system than the javelins. It's for defensive operations and it's different. You also have that and a lot of mine clearing stuff. So you're seeing the movement of Ukrainian forces as they attack the defending Russian forces in some of these southern places.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and that weapons package, as you know better than me, gives an indication of what the U.S. believes and Ukrainians believe that the next phase of the war will be like.

I wonder how concerned you are to see this open warfare, shelling in and around what is Europe's largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia. We saw similar circumstances around Chernobyl earlier in the war. Are you concerned that this is deliberate by Russia, right? That they might calculate it's in their interests to cause something as severe as a nuclear accident here?

HERTLING: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot of experts who say the Zaporizhzhia power plant is certainly dissimilar to what we saw at Chernobyl. But it's still a nuclear power plant. It still has six reactors with a lot of nuclear rods. It still has the capability, if not taken care of, to emanate a cloud of nuclear radiation that can travel with the wind. Certainly not the kind of explosion that was made famous at Chernobyl. But still, the effects of nuclear contamination. So yes, this is just another indication, Jim, as we've talked so many

times about, about Russia's war crimes. They are using a governmental public facility to protect their forces, you know, set it up for potentially a false flag operation. But still, this is extremely dangerous, and it's not a military target. This is a civilian target. This, you know, is something that could hurt a large swath of both Ukrainian and potentially either European or Russian citizens, depending on which way the wind blows.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Certainly danger to Russia as well.

Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, retired, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HERTLING: Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: We have two more urgent stories coming up this hour. Will we have a revived Iran nuclear deal? Plus, China's problems are compounding. We'll be back in just a moment.



SCIUTTO: China is in the midst of just a scorching heatwave that is putting real pressure on the country's electrical grid. It comes as China's central bank is cutting key interest rates to try to stimulate the country's flagging economy, which has suffered from shutdowns due to Beijing's Zero COVID policy, and on the geopolitical front, Beijing still smarting from Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, which China answered with days of massive live fire military exercises around the democratic island.

China's economic growth rate more broadly has fallen back to earth. What do all these setbacks mean for China and for the rest of the world, as the era of China's seemingly unending growth over for the world's most populace country?

I want to bring in David Rennie, he's the Beijing bureau chief for the "Economist" magazine, and he joins me now from Hong Kong.

David, thanks so much for joining me this morning.


SCIUTTO: David, I wonder if you could give us a big picture appraisal of where these headwinds stand with China because these are not headlines folks outside are used to hearing in terms of negative economic circumstances. You have the Zero COVID policies, caused a lot of shutdowns, you have this heatwave. You have a real estate crisis going on. Is this an economic crisis for China?

RENNIE: It's an economic -- it's not a crisis yet but it's a real economic slowdown with some real economic pain in the Chinese economy. And that has political consequences. China's communist party, they're obsessed with control at the best of times. But this is an extremely sensitive year for the top leader Xi Jinping. By towards the end of this year, we're going to have one of the most important meetings the communist party has had in a generation, the 20th Party Congress.

He's expected to kind of tear up the rule book and to ask for a third term as leader. To do that, he needs everything to be ticking along and humming nicely. And as you say, China's economic growth has been something that we've taken for granted but also the communist party and the Chinese people have taken for granted for a long time.


SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this then. Is this a short-term bump in the road for China's economic growth or is it part of a longer term slowdown? We were used to for a number of years double digit growth, more recently high single digit growth, although there's always been doubt, real doubt about the veracity of China's economic growth numbers. But from your perspective, and you've been there a number of years, is this part of a longer term slowdown for China economically?

RENNIE: So I think you have to look at the different headwinds and to separate them out. So it is true that China is having power cuts because of this heatwave. A lot of countries are having a very hot year. And, you know, that is causing problems in China like everywhere else. But it's not really a sort of signature policy of the big guy Xi Jinping that has caused that. But if you look at things like the property slowdown, that's a direct result of Xi Jinping's own decision.

The market was overheating, there was too much borrowing by big property companies, and it was time to rein that in. That is now leading to people refusing to pay their mortgages because the flat they'd promise to buy is not going to be built, and property companies are starting to wobble and teeter.

And Zero COVID as you mentioned (INAUDIBLE) is also really slamming consumer confidence. It's really kind of gripping China very tightly at the moment. And you're seeing a lot of people not taking that holiday, not taking that business trip because the risks of getting stuck are really high.

SCIUTTO: China, as you know, is extremely sensitive to any signs of domestic unrest or opposition to the government. I certainly saw that during my time there. I know you've seen it during your time there. People refusing to pay mortgages. How does China respond to that?

RENNIE: So China is always about control, but always about looking at the numbers. As long as most people look happy, they're willing to impose quite a lot of pain on a small number. So even the Zero COVID policy is basically a numbers game. But as long as the number of people being locked down is small-ish, and most people in China feel they live in a country that's doing better than, say America, in terms of preventing COVID deaths, they have some consent for that.

For the moment, these mortgage kind of strikes, people refusing to pay their mortgages, those are relatively limited. You can be sure the secret police is watching them like a hawk, rounding up anyone organizing those protests, trying to stop it becoming a nationwide movement. But we have not seen the top central government intervening with kind of massive stimulus. The stimulus is much more top down, it's provincial government to get back to pouring concrete, building new highspeed rail lines, new airports. The traditional tools that the communist party reaches for when they're worried about the economy slowing down.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned how Xi Jinping is about to tear up the rule book by breaking the longstanding CCP rule of just two terms for the president. Adding another one which some read really as him anointing himself president for life here. Do these headwinds economic and geopolitical as well, given tensions over Taiwan, do they threaten that plan? Is it possible those plans get derailed or is it full steam ahead?

RENNIE: So the normal country with elections, he would certainly be facing a rough ride. If he was about to run for office, then there are definitely headwinds. There are people who'd be criticizing him. But one of the signatures of Xi Jinping's first 10 years in office is the systematic, ruthless elimination of any rivals, any rival factions. And so all the signs at the moment is, if there were real rivals to Xi Jinping, you're right, this would be a moment for them to try and criticize some of his big, bold, risky decisions and this big ask of another five years at least potentially ruling for life as you say.

The fact we're not hearing those voices, we're not seeing kind of retired leaders or red princelings giving speeches, kind of coded criticism of the leader, the kind of things you see in China when there's unhappiness at the top, we're really not seeing that. And it could be that Xi Jinping is right in his bet that he is pulling off a real concentration of power of the sort that we've not seen since going back to the days of Chairman Mao.

SCIUTTO: There is some concern that given domestic troubles and challenges that Xi might attempt to distract by creating a worsening, an international crisis, and of course particular attention around Taiwan. We saw those military exercises that China launched in response to Nancy Pelosi's visit there. Is there concern in China, is there concern in the region of -- if not a full invasion of Taiwan, that some sort of wag the dog scenario, right, to distract from troubles at home?

RENNIE: So, Jim, you're right as a general principle, when dictators get in trouble, there's always a fear that they'll start a war. And in fact you can argue that one of the reasons Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine was that he was suffering domestically and it was a very useful way of getting the Russian public to rally around the flag. China is a very different beast from Russia, though.


Although Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin share a lot of things about their view of America, the West, the world, China is bound into the global economy, into the supply chains that run right into America and the rest of the world, in a way that Russia just is not. And so I think a reason to be calm about a war any time soon like this year, an adventure, if you like, is that it would actually just compound those economic problems at precisely the moment that Xi Jinping needs things to be calm.

And so although we've seen tremendous amount of saber rattling, I don't think that an adventure would actually solve his economic problems. It would make them worse.

SCIUTTO: David Rennie, Beijing bureau chief for the "Economist," thanks so much for joining us this morning.

RENNIE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next on GPS, is the nuclear deal with Iran on the brink of revival? We'll try to get to the bottom of that key question in just a moment.



SCIUTTO: Let's talk about Iran and the possibility that it will agree once again, along with European and international powers, to a deal that would restrict its nuclear program. A top Russian diplomat said on Friday that a revived deal could be reached, quote, "in the coming days." A senior State Department official told me just this morning, we've closed some gaps, but some still remain.

Now, remember, the original deal between Iran, the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany was signed back in 2015. Three years later, however, then President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from the deal unilaterally which then led to its unraveling. Since then, Iran has vastly increased its reserves of highly enriched uranium bringing Tehran closer to a nuclear weapon.

What would a return to the deal mean for Washington, Tehran, and the rest of the world? And can the West work with Russia and China in the midst of growing tensions over Ukraine and Taiwan?

Joining me to discuss, Karim Sadjadpour and Dina Esfandiary. Karim, a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Dina is a senior adviser on the Middle East to the International Crisis Group.

Good to have you both on this Sunday.

Dina, I wonder if I could begin with you, just with your assessment of what would be quite a remarkable development, that this deal resurrected between the U.S. and Iran, but also involving two countries, the U.S. and the West, having very real issue with right now, China and Russia. What are the chances?

DINA ESFANDIARY, SENIOR ADVISER, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: It's hard to say. Let's just say that we are closer than we were a few weeks ago, but we're not quite there yet. There are some real outstanding issues that remain. Things like sanctions relief or some of the guarantees that the Iranian side has been asking for. And those still need to be negotiated. Iranians came back with a substantive offer, which the U.S. side is now considering. So we'll just have to see what the U.S. comes back with.

SCIUTTO: Karim, in effect, this is an exchange for economic relief for an Iranian regime and country under severe economic pressure to reduce again its stockpiles and lengthen, in effect, the breakout time, the time between today and when Iran could reach a nuclear weapon. Do you see those issues being overcome? And if so, would that be remarkable in your view?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR FELLOW, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Jim, I think it's clear that the Biden administration desperately wants to revive this deal, and Iran really can't reverse its economic decline, if it doesn't revive this deal. But I think we should make clear that the Biden administration's the goal vis-a-vis Iran wasn't simply to revert back to status quo ante and get the JCPOA of 2015.

Their goal was to actually get a longer and stronger deal. So I think that, you know, if, indeed, we are able to revive this deal, that's not the finish line. That's not when we give up. I think the administration is then going to have to make an extra push to not just try to get that longer and stronger deal, but also a strategy to counter Iran's regional aggression.

SCIUTTO: That, of course, as you mentioned, the sun setting of this agreement has been one of the concerns, one of the key criticisms of not just Republicans but Democrats in this country and others.

Dina, in the meantime, Iran, as we mentioned, has barreled closer to a breakout point, vastly increasing its reserves of highly enriched uranium. From purely that measure would the resurrection of a deal, Iran reentering the deal improve regional security?

ESFANDIARY: Well, it would certainly address the main concern of the international community right now, which is Iran's nuclear program. Without the nuclear deal, Iran's program expands uncontrolled, unconstrained, and that's a real problem. To the region, the problem is slightly different. The nuclear program is an issue, but also Iran's activities in the region are complicated, nefarious, problematic, and those do need to be addressed.

But we're talking about just the nuclear deal. And we need to really understand the nonproliferation value of this nuclear deal, that it will constrain Iran's nuclear program so that then we can talk about everything else.

SCIUTTO: In terms of nonproliferation, Karim, would it also effectively or at least for a time, if not address, push off the desires of other nations in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, made nervous by Iran's potential nuclear -- well, its nuclear program potentially having a weapon, pursuing their own nuclear weapon?

SADJADPOUR: Jim, putting a lid on Iran's nuclear program is a good thing. But, again, it's not a comprehensive strategy. And I think with regards to regional countries, you know, what they would say is that they're not worried. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, they're not worried about getting nuked by Iran. You know, they're worried about Iran's regional proxies and Iran's increasingly precision use of missiles, rockets and drones.

So if, indeed, this deal is revived, I don't think it necessarily is going to trigger neighboring countries, U.S. partners in the region, to amp up their nuclear program. But I do think that the concern that is -- a legitimate concern of regional countries is that we're essentially unleashing Iran economically to double and triple down on all these proxies and the rockets, missiles and drones, which they are using daily.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of proxies, we have seen the extent of Iran's aggression far outside the region. I mean, this is a week where just astounding comments from Tehran at a minimum, seeming to justify, if not claiming the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, here on U.S. soil. We had more revelations about a plot against the former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Dina, would it be wise for the Biden administration and its western allies and the U.S.' western allies to make an agreement with an Iran carrying out activities such as that?

ESFANDIARY: I mean, you don't make an agreement with countries that you trust and get along with, you make agreements with problematic actors in order to address the problematic behavior. So I think, yes, now is the right time to deal with Iran.

We have to be realistic. Iran, like I said, is a problem actor. But by getting back into the nuclear deal, we're addressing one problematic dimension of its behavior. That doesn't mean it prevents us from addressing all the others. It just means that this one issue, the nuclear issue, will be taken off the table so that we can then focus our attention on all the other things that Iran is doing.

SCIUTTO: A remarkable factor of this deal, Karim, as you know, is that two of the players are Russia and China that signed on in 2015. And if it's resurrected, they would be players once again.

You know, I'm told that Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Iran nuclear deal with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a recent visit to Bali. Can the U.S., its European allies, I don't want to say stand with, but do business with, right, particularly Russia in light of its invasion of Ukraine, but also China given tensions over Taiwan? Is that supposed an example of realpolitik?

SADJADPOUR: Jim, even though China and Russia are commonly lumped together I think there are very different interests vis-a-vis Iran. China's interests are pretty straight forward. They want to ensure the free flow of energy from the Middle East. They don't want, you know, any type of conflict that would disrupt it. So removing the sanctions against Iran benefits China very much.

I would argue Russia has very different interests. You know, Russia, as isolated as it's been in this modern history Iran competes with Russia in global oil and gas markets. So I would argue actually an isolated Iran, which is a thorn in the side of the United States, can actually be useful for Russia. So I don't think it necessarily -- you know, it's in Russia's interests to see an isolated Iran.

But as you said, by virtue of the fact that there's no direct dialogue between the United States and Iran, the United States has had to communicate through Iran, through Russia, through China, through our European allies.

SCIUTTO: Remarkable relationships, no question. Karim Sadjadpour, Dina Esfandiary, thanks so much for joining me.

Coming up next on GPS, Fareed will be back with the conversation about constitutions. Many have said America's founding document needs a refresh or perhaps even an entire rethink. Well, what does it take to get political consensus on a new constitution? Fareed will bring you one country's fascinating story.



ZAKARIA: Two hundred and thirty-four years ago this summer, the constitution of the United States of America was ratified. There's been a lot of talk in recent years about whether it needs some other refresh or wholesale rethinking. Well, the nation of Chile will soon reach the final phase of a push to change its own governing document.

On September 4, citizens will vote on whether to accept a radically different constitution from the one that currently governs them. It's been a fascinating process and I wanted to learn about it from Andres Velasco, Chile's former finance minister, who is now the dean of the School of Public Policy at the London School of Economics.

Andres, welcome. Give us a -- you know, for those of us who don't know the background, what is going on? What was Chile's old constitution and, you know, why is there a move to create a new one?

ANDRES VELASCO, FORMER CHILEAN FINANCE MINISTER: Chileans had the same constitution, Fareed, since 1980 and it was put together during dictatorial times, so it suffers of a -- call it a sin of origin. Now it has been amended over 70 times, so it's not the same document as General Pinochet put together back then.

But still, when Chileans were asked in a referendum a year and a half ago, do you want to change the constitution, about 78 -- almost 80 percent said, yes, we want a new constitution. The question today before Chileans is, what kind of a constitution and is the new proposed text good enough?

ZAKARIA: And, you know, you're right in saying they overwhelmingly wanted a new one, but then what somehow has ended up being proposed seems quite a radical document and, you know, ushers in a whole different set of issues.


Is that causing some rethinking? First, describe the document and whether it is causing some rethinking.

VELASCO: Well, let me start by the end of what you said which is absolutely right. Yes, it's causing a lot of rethinking. In fact, a number of figures on the center of politics in Chile, even on the center left and left have come out against the document. And there are plenty of bits of information that suggest that popular opinion is actually quite skeptical, as well.

What happened first of all, it is a very long document. Nearly 400 articles, it would be among the longest in the world. Secondly, the process of writing it did not leave a lot of people happy, because the 155 members of the convention fought a lot, engaged in all kinds of identity politics of the kind that turns the middle class, middle age and middle of the road voters against the proposed text.

And last but not least, you know, a constitution is really a set of rules for governing politics and the exercise of power. And the system that is being proposed is not workable, would not give Chile a better kind of politics. It would be prone to deadlock. It would be prone to confrontation. And, I think, increasingly voters are coming to terms with that reality.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that this constitution has come about as part of the kind of wave of anti-establishment, left-wing populism that is sweeping Latin America? If you look at from the election of AMLO in Mexico, to the elections that have taken place in Colombia recently, to Chile, of course, and to what appears to be the impending election of Lula in Brazil, a much more left-wing populist version of Lula, is this all part of a larger trend?

VELASCO: I think it is part of a trend. Of course, there are elements that are uniquely Chilean. But I would not limit that trend to Latin America, Fareed. I think the onslaught against elites, the skepticism of established parties, the tendency to go populist, either populist of the left or populist of the right, of course, goes far beyond Latin America.

You see it in the U.S. You see it in the U.K., where I am right now. You see it in Turkey and in India, and in Hungary, and in Poland, and a bunch of other countries around the world. The genesis of the current text that is being proposed to Chileans in the referendum is very much, you know, linked to identity politics and populism.

ZAKARIA: Now, Chile has enjoyed the fastest economic growth and the strongest economic performance of any Latin American country for three decades now. And people would sometimes joke that Chile was an East Asian country that just happened to be in Latin America. Do you think that robust economic performance would be imperiled if this new constitution came into being?

VELASCO: The answer is yes. Although let me elaborate. I think Chile's economic and political performance has been declining in the last say half decade or even decade. The really fast growth happened in the '90s and in the beginning of this century.

Chilean growth has been declining, stagnating even you might say. And part of it has to do with decline of politics. Even under current arrangements, you typically have a president who is elected, you know, for a fixed term of office, like the American president, but it is very hard to put together congressional majorities. As a result, it is very hard to put together coalitions to reform whatever needs reforming.

Again, it is all about the rules of engagement, the rules of the game, the fiscal rules of the game, the political rules of the game, the ones in this text would then to exacerbate that problem and would probably mean that Chile would grow even less than it has been growing in the last few years.

ZAKARIA: Andres Velasco, pleasure to have you on. Thank you.

VELASCO: My pleasure. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, you know those incredible pictures of space you've been seeing a lot of lately? Behind those pictures is an incredible story as well, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Space as you've never seen it before. After a quarter century in development on Earth, the world's most powerful space telescope is now in orbit in space, about a million miles away. And this summer, it released its stunning first images.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an extraordinary scientific achievement built to see parts of space and time previously unseen, like this image of a galaxy cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. And the expectation is that the Webb will be able to look even further back in time to the early universe, and the formation of its first stars and galaxies.

Mike Menzel is the lead Mission Systems engineer at NASA for the Webb Space Telescope. He joins me now. Mike, thank you.

Let me first just ask you your reaction to these images, as somebody who has worked so hard and for so long on this, what are you seeing and what does it make you -- you know, is this better than you expected, pretty much the same? What is your reaction?

MIKE MENZEL, NASA MISSION SYSTEMS ENGINEER, WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE: Well, the reaction of myself and all my colleagues was of sheer joyful amazement. You know, the images that you see are great, but the amount of detail that's in these images astounded us.


ZAKARIA: Are there any images in particular you want to direct our attention to?

MENZEL: Yes, it's the one -- the galaxy cluster that you had talked about. It's a galaxy cluster about 4 billion light years away. And that image -- the thing that made us almost giddy when we saw it, the image actually contains galaxies in it that are further away than Hubble image. But at first reaction you can look at that image and think to yourself, well, it looks similar to Hubble. But the Hubble picture -- the Hubble took 10 to 15 days to get that image. We did it in 12 hours. So this was a taste of things to come.

And when we saw that image, we all kind of -- you know, we were literally, as I said, giddy. We designed this telescope to see the very first galaxies that turned on in the universe. And when we saw what it did in only 12 hours, we knew in our hearts that whatever is out there, we're going to see it.

ZAKARIA: So when I think about this as a layman what strikes me as extraordinary about this telescope is on the one side it faces the sun and has this -- I mean, the heat that it's facing is extraordinary. On the other side, it's facing cold temperatures like you can't imagine. Describe how that works.

MENZEL: The sunshield blocks out the sun and lets the cold side passively cool down to almost the temperature of cold space, to the temperature of the telescope, the three metric tons of that telescope has to get down to about 55 degrees Kelvin, which is about minus 361 degrees Fahrenheit. It has to do that because we're looking in infrared wavelengths. Anything that has a temperature like our bodies, like ambient temperature, would glow in the infrared.

So we don't want the telescope glowing brighter than the images that it's looking at. So that big tennis court-sized sunshield that we have keeps us in the shade and allows us to cool. And I've told people, if that sunshield were suntan lotion you would say it had an SPF of about 10 million.

ZAKARIA: Wow. And when you think about what this will help us learn, you know, how should we think about what a telescope like this teaches us? I mean, you know -- again, I hear it and I think, so are we going to learn a lot more about the Big Bang because we're going back so far in time?

MENZEL: Well, it could potentially tell us some of the conditions in the early universe that could make some inferences as to the Big Bang, but it will certainly tell us what the early universe was like, how that early universe fostered galaxy formation. And the other big question that Webb is fully capable of answering is looking for planets around other stars, exoplanets that may have signs of biomarkers, signs of elements or compounds that either are produced by life or necessary for life.

So when you think about it, it's possibly, you know, addressing two of the most fundamental questions in astronomy -- how did it all begin? And are we alone?

ZAKARIA: So when I think of it up there a million miles away, I guess, I have two questions. One, what happens if something goes wrong? And what happen if you run out of gas or fuel or energy or whatever it is that's powering it? MENZEL: Well, first let me answer the last question because that's the easiest. We had designed the telescope to be good -- to have enough fuel propellant for 10 years. Well, as it is, because Ariane put us on such a perfect trajectory and because we made some of our early maneuvers right on time, we have well over 20 years of propellant. So we're -- propellant is not our problem there.

And when it comes to what could go wrong. Well, anything can go wrong in space and we designed contingency procedures for that. But most of us believed -- most of us were fairly certain that the biggest risks that we faced were in the early days of the deploying, the unfolding. And that went so smoothly and so great that most of us feel, hey, most of our major risks are behind us right now. We have a fully operational world asset for astronomy.

ZAKARIA: So when I look at something like this, Mike, it does seem to me, you and your colleagues play a very special role. There's so much bad news out there. There's so much that people worry about. And then here you come along with this astonishing scientific and technological achievement, it's a sign of what the American government, when it puts its mind to it can do really well. But it's also a sign of real international cooperation, right? Because this is not just an American venture.

MENZEL: Absolutely. This is an international collaboration involving the Canadian, European space agencies, various universities.


And as you said it does show when we can work collegiately what we can do together. And over the course of, you know, 25 years myself, a lot of my foreign partners, we became like families. So we ended up squabbling but we -- I was always squabbling with someone who I knew, as dedicated to the success of this mission as I was. And we got through it all together and -- well, you can see the results.

ZAKARIA: Well, I have to tell you, this is the kind of thing that leaves me always amazed and in awe but also very grateful. Grateful for all the work you guys have done. So thank you and it's been a pleasure having you on the show.

MENZEL: Thank you, sir.

ZAKARIA: And thanks to all of you for watching this program. I will see you next week.