After three decades in the making, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was successfully launched on Christmas Day, lifting off atop an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 7:20 am ET. The launch marks a milestone in space exploration, with the beginning of a mission that promises to transform how scientists study the deepest depths of the Universe. “From a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the Universe,” Rob Navias, NASA’s announcer on the agency’s livestream, said at liftoff.
“Over three decades, you produced this telescope that is now going to take us back to the very beginnings of the universe. We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined”, said NASA’s Administrator Bill Nelson, congratulating the team.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s primary contractor Northrop Grumman said the launched marked a “historic and giant step forward in the human quest to understand our universe”.
1. Surprises from distant worlds
If the entire mission succeeds until the end, the James Webb Telescope will observe every kind of cosmic object we can possibly see, from distant alien worlds and black holes, galaxies, supernovae, and violent collisions between dense stars. “We are, without a doubt, going to see surprises… the likes of which we can only dream of right now,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, told The Verge.
2. Risky voyage
Alike to all space ventures, the James Webb Telescope is facing a risky voyage while roaming in the vacuum of space until its final location 1 million miles from Earth. Along the journey, the spacecraft will be slowly unfolding and reshaping itself to reach its final configuration, an absolute necessary process for the Telescope to successfully observe the cosmos.There are hundreds of steps involved and plenty of moments where one bad deployment could jeopardize the entire mission.
The final test will come in 27 days from today, when the Telescope fires its onboard thrusters and puts itself into its final orbit, the rest of its life, always pointed away from the Sun, until it runs out of fuel in 5 or 10 years.
3. Upgrading Hubble
The James Webb Space Telescope is often considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been orbiting the Earth since 1990. However, James Webb’s technical capabilities far exceed those of Hubble’s. This next-generation space-orbiting observatory promises to be 10 to 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and much more capable of picking up distant and faint objects. NASA spent a total of $9.7 billion with the development of James Webb.