NASA got a $10 billion telescope this Christmas, James Webb Space Telescope that is used to study the early universe. The launch was on December 25th, at 7:20 a.m. EST. The highly anticipated and most delayed launch is the hopes and dreams of many astronomers, scientists, and astrophysicists.
The huge telescope will peer at the universe’s first stars and galaxies, sniff the atmospheres of nearby alien planets and perform a variety of other high-profile, high-impact work over the next five to 10 years, if all goes according to plan. The space telescope soared into a cloudy sky over Kourou and separated from its Arianespace-built rocket about a half-hour later. Cheers erupted out at launch control as live views of Webb floating away and unfolding its solar array reached Earth.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told last week, “This is a one-of-a-kind. It is the most advanced technology that is going to, if successful, open up secrets of the universe that will be just stupendous, if not almost overwhelming, [providing a] quantum leap of understanding of who we are, how we got here, what we are and how did it all evolve.”
While there are many crucial missions planned by NASA, this is one of the most crucial things they did so far in history. Also the biggest pure science project they did in the United States ever.
Three decades of work
Webb has been in the works for more than three decades. The ball first got rolling in September 1989, when a group of astronomers met at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore to discuss a possible successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble hadn’t even launched yet, but big space telescopes take a long time to plan and build, so the astronomy community tends to think a decade or two in advance. And in this particular case, there was a strong desire to minimize the chance of a long observing gap between Hubble and a “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST), as the successor was informally called.
Hubble launched to Earth orbit successfully in April 1990, but it soon became apparent that something was very wrong: The first images the scope returned were disappointingly blurry. This unexpected development had a chilling effect on planning for the NGST, said Robert Smith, a history professor at the University of Alberta in Canada who has written extensively about Hubble and other astronomy missions. Smith said during a presentation last week with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group, “Things really [weren’t] moving very much as a consequence. The priority [was] to fix Hubble.”