James Webb Space Telescope: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on Saturday completed a two-week-long deployment phase of its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror panel as it gets ready to study cosmic history.
“The James Webb Space Telescope is an unprecedented mission that is on the precipice of seeing the light from the first galaxies and discovering the mysteries of our universe,” the NASA website quoted Administrator Bill Nelson as saying.
“Each feat already achieved and future accomplishment is a testament to the thousands of innovators who poured their life’s passion into this mission.”
The telescope was transported into space folded up as it was too large to fit into the rocket’s nose cone in its operational configuration. The unfurling process has been a complicated and challenging process and, according to NASA, the most daunting such project ever attempted.
A joint effort with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb mission will “explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe,” NASA said.
A successor to the Hubble telescope, the Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever built. It blasted off in an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana, and is heading to its orbital point, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.
For the “multicultural” telescope team that worked through its Christmas Day launch through Eastern Orthodox holidays, it was a time for celebration.
“I am so proud of the team – spanning continents and decades – that delivered this first-of-its kind achievement,” NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said.
“Webb’s successful deployment exemplifies the best of what NASA has to offer: the willingness to attempt bold and challenging things in the name of discoveries still unknown.”
Project Manager Bill Ochs, on the other hand, stressed that the team wasn’t lowering its guard despite the success.
The space science telescope — the largest and most complicated — will now undergo five months of alignment and calibration before it can start sending images. The Webb will begin moving its 18 primary mirror segments to align the optics. Its infrared technology will allow it to see the first galaxies and stars, formed 13.5 billion years ago, and give astronomers new insight into the universe’s earliest epoch.