NASA is in celebration mode. Its James Webb Space Telescope has successfully deployed, positioning itself almost one million miles from Earth. Folded within a rocket and launched on Christmas Day, the telescope promises to photograph the origins of the universe. Before it can search for ancient light, however, the craft had to unfold a sun shield the size of almost three tennis courts and align its golden mirrors. Hundreds of things could have gone wrong, but thanks to the skill and devotion of NASA employees, everything went according to plan.
Millions of dollars in funding were on the line when NASA launched the new telescope. Twenty-nine nail-biting days followed. At last, the telescope is now completely unfolded. It has enough fuel onboard to last it 20 years. Once the telescope cools down, it will capture and return images of the farthest reaches of space to Earth. These images will contain the “first lights” of our universe. If even one point the unfolding went wrong, all of this potential data to be mined from the cosmos could have been completely lost.
The associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, said in an op-ed for Space.com, “Thousands of people worked hard to get Webb where it is today.” His, and NASA's, excitement is palpable. “We did it. We did it, and you can see that speck of light in the sky because of an incredible team with extraordinary tenacity,” Dr. Zurbuchen writes. He notes that any team needs visionaries and realists: “A team then had to take that vision and turn it into reality: the biggest, most powerful, most complex space science observatory the world has ever seen…Truly, the only way big goals are achieved is by diverse teams that come together as one.”