NASA’s $10 billion James Webb Telescope successfully deployed its respective components, including a 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, and is now ready to give astronomers the best view of the universe ever experienced by humans, the agency announced Saturday.
"Today, NASA achieved another engineering milestone decades in the making. While the journey is not complete, I join the Webb team in breathing a little easier and imagining the future breakthroughs bound to inspire the world," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a release issued by the space agency.
"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. Each feat already achieved and future accomplishment is a testament to the thousands of innovators who poured their life’s passion into this mission."
According to NASA, which launched the telescope into space on Christmas Eve, the final segment of the mirror latched into its final position at 1:17 p.m. Saturday.
It took two weeks for all the components, which were folded as compact as possible into the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket, to deploy and lock into position for the telescope to function in space.
The world’s most expensive and complicated telescope will now move its 18 primary mirror segments around to align the telescope optics, using 126 actuators on the backsides to adjust each mirror, for the next several months before the remaining instruments can be calibrated to deliver images back to Earth, the agency said.
"I am so proud of the team – spanning continents and decades – that delivered this first-of-its kind achievement," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in NASA Headquarters in Washington said in the release. "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."
The Webb telescope is expected to provide a much better glimpse of the universe when compared to the 30-year-old Hubble Telescope, which launched in 1990, when it reaches its orbit some 1 million miles from Earth, according to NASA.
The images are expected to give scientists a look at the light from some of the universe’s earliest stars and galaxies, possibly answering existing questions about how things formed at the beginning of time.
"By combining expertise from both the United States and Europe, we have developed MIRI (mid-infrared instrument camera and spectrograph) as a powerful capability for Webb that will enable astronomers from all over the world to answer big questions about how stars, planets, and galaxies form and evolve," said Gillian Wright, co-lead of the MIRI science team and the instrument’s European principal investigator at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.
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