At Long Last, the World’s Most Powerful Space Telescope is Ready To Launch

Decades of tension, debate, and determination have led to this moment, as the James Webb Space Telescope begins its million-mile journey into deep space. From a report: For the world's most advanced space telescope, and the thousands of people who've worked on it over the decades, the starting gun is about to fire. After more than a quarter-century of planning, designing, building, waiting -- and of obsessively testing the most complex space observatory ever assembled -- the mammoth James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch at 7:20 a.m. eastern time on December 25. Whether that launch represents a year-end gift to science or a catastrophic conclusion to 2021 depends on two things: a safe rocket ride into the sky, and the weeks immediately afterward. For JWST's mission to succeed, the telescope must execute an intricate series of carefully choreographed maneuvers during its first month in space. Even a single misstep could compromise the entire mission. And the telescope must perform its devilishly difficult dance far beyond the reach of human hands, hurtling toward a point in space a million miles away. "This is a high-risk and a very high-payoff program," NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy said during a call with reporters on December 21. "There are a lot of hard, long weeks ahead, where the telescope has to deploy perfectly." But the risk is worth the reward. When JWST opens its golden, 21-foot-wide eye, it will transform our view of the cosmos and of ourselves. The telescope's mission is to tell the story of the universe, from a few beats after its radiant, percussive birth through the sweep of cosmic ages until now -- when humans craft machines that are powerful enough to look back to the beginnings of space and time. With an eye that's sensitive enough to see a bumblebee in lunar orbit, the telescope will peer into the primordial murk from which stars, galaxies, and planets emerged, piercing the darkness that has occluded the gaze of other great observatories.

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