On Saturday, December 25, NASA launched its largest and most powerful telescope into space. The “James Webb Space Telescope” lifted off from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, riding a European Ariane rocket.
The observatory cost $10 billion and is on a quest to use light from the first stars and galaxies and search the universe for signs of life. It is currently traveling one million miles away, which is more than four times the moon’s distance. The telescope will arrive in another five months before it can start scanning the cosmos.
After the telescope arrives, the process will start with its enormous mirror and sun-shield beginning to unfurl after being folded to fit in the nose of the rocket. The telescope will then use this mirror to observe more of the universe than historically possible.
“It’s going to give us a better understanding of our universe and our place in it, who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the intended successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which is aging and becoming outdated. European and Canadian space agencies partnered with NASA to construct and launch this historic telescope.
Thousands of people across 29 countries have been working on it since the 1990s.
The telescope has a gold-plated mirror that spans more than 21 feet across and includes a five-layer sun-shield that is vital for keeping the mirror and heat-sensing infrared sensor at subzero temperatures. With a measurement of 70 feet by 46 feet, the telescope is the size of a tennis court.
Three days after launch, the sun-shield will begin to open and take at least five days to unfold and lock into place. After that, the folded-up mirror will start to open 12 days into the flight.
The Hubble was always a beloved marvel that was able to peer back as far as 13.4 billion years, and now, the James Webb Space Telescope will draw even closer to historic observations examining back 13.8 billion years.
NASA predicts ten years of operational life before repairs and maintenance will be needed. NASA Program director Greg Robinson describes the project as “nothing we’ve done before.”
“After Webb, we will never see the skies in quite the same way,” said Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel.