The dreams and missions of a generation of astronomers set out to orbit the sun on Saturday in the form of the largest and most expensive space-based laboratory ever built. The James Web Space Telescope is a joint venture between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Time until morning.
“The world has given us this telescope, and we return it to the world today,” said Gregory Robinson, program director of the Web Telescope, at a post – launch news conference in French Guiana.
Named after a NASA executive who led the space agency during the early years of the Apollo program, the telescope is designed to look farther into space than the Hubble Space Telescope. Its primary light-collecting glass is 21 feet across, three times larger than the Hubble and seven times more sensitive.
The heat aims to search for the earliest, most distant stars and galaxies that appeared 13.7 billion years ago, burning the way out of the remaining fog at the Big Bang (which occurred 13.8 billion years ago).
Astronomers watching the launch from a distance around the world, many were delighted to zoom in on their pajamas together.
“What an incredible Christmas gift,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Todd Lawyer of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, in an email with other astronomers, expressed his feelings about the launch: “The most sacred” nominal! “Of all space words!
Alan Tresler, a Carnegie astronomer and one of the founders of the Web Telescope Project, exclaimed, “Hello! – Another sacred word for this moment, Todd.
Priyamvada Natarajan, a cosmologist in Yale, described herself in an email from India as “just absolutely delighted! – Aha! Wow! “
At the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the headquarters for Webb’s mission operations, a small group of scientists and NASA officials exploded with applause during the launch.
The flight crew in another part of the company saw the web use its solar array, and then a few minutes later its communication antenna. About 100 crews will command the spacecraft’s deployments, which will change between 12 hour shifts a day for 24 hours as it begins its journey to a point beyond the moon.
“They got real work to do,” said Kenneth Sembok, director of the company. “Our teams have been doing a lot of rehearsals for the last two years.”
Equipped with detectors that are sensitive to infrared or “thermal radiation”, the telescope will paint the universe in colors never seen before by the human eye. The expansion of the universe converts visible light from early, most distant galaxies to long infrared wavelengths.
Astronomers say that by examining the temperature of these baby galaxies, they will be able to provide vital clues as to when and how supermassive black holes formed at the centers of galaxies will form. Currently near home, the telescope sniffs the planets orbiting nearby stars, looking for infrared signatures of living elements and molecules such as oxygen and water.
The web explores all cosmic history and its billions of years, astronomers say – from the first stars to life in the solar system. This week, NASA executive Bill Nelson called the telescope “the key hole of the past.”
“This is a great example of what we can achieve when we dream big,” he said. After being launched, he said, “This is a great day for Earth.”
The beginning of the telescope’s journey did not go unnoticed by the payers of the space agency in Congress, and they stuck with the plan for decades.
“Today’s successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope marks a historic milestone in the advancement of our astronomy and space science,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas and chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. .
Saturday’s successful launch involves 25 years of uncertainty, mistakes and ingenuity. Webb’s 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors, advanced temperature controllers and ultrasonic infrared sensors were joined together in a development timeline full of cost violations and technical constraints. Engineers had to invent 10 new technologies to make the telescope more sensitive than the Hubble.
When NASA selected Northrop Krumman to lead Webb’s construction in 2002, mission managers estimated that it would cost $ 1 billion to $ 3.5 billion and be launched into space in 2010. Highly reliable table forecasts, occasional growth accidents and irregular spending reports dragged the timeline. Until 2021 and raised the total cost to $ 10 billion.
Even with its final fold to the launchpad, the Kourou rocket seemed as dangerous as an accident on the bay, with severed cables and alarming weather reports moving the web departure date deep into December, making Christmas morning unavoidable.
“I am very happy today,” said Joseph Ashbacher, director general of the European Space Agency. But he added, “It’s so stressful, I can not do launches every day, it’s not good for my lifetime.”
For astronomers and engineers, the launch was a suspenseful scene.
“It was hard to sleep last night,” said Adam Rice, an astronomer and Nobel laureate who uses a web telescope to measure the rate of expansion of the universe.
But the launch is the first step in an even more treacherous journey known to astronomers and rocket engineers as the “Six Months Concern.”
The half-hour solar panel was deployed on the plane, the first in a month-long series of maneuvers and deployments that NASA calls the “344 single-point failure”.
NASA Deputy Executive Pam Melroy said, “I’m starting to breathe again when the solar system comes out. We have many difficult days ahead of us, but you can not start anything until this area is right.”
In the most tense moments, astronomers say, a large sunscreen will be exposed, the size of a tennis court, designed to keep the telescope in the dark and cool so that its own heat does not absorb heat from distant stars. . The screen is made up of five layers of plastic called Mylar, Mylar is as thin as Captain. It occasionally tore during the rehearsal of its deployment.
If all goes well, next summer astronomers will begin to see the universe in a new light. They are expecting the unexpected. As Thomas Surbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, recently said: “Every time we launch a big bold telescope, we are surprised. This is what makes it so big and bold.
But if something goes wrong in the coming weeks and months, the astronomical view of the origin of existence may be affected. When problems arose at Hubble’s work in the 1990s, NASA sent astronauts to repair the spacecraft. The web telescope is heading towards a point beyond the moon, before which no spacecraft has ever loaded humans (although Ms. Melroy says NASA has thought about this. Robot repair work If one is needed).
“To my friends who are not astronomers, after launch, you often want to hear nothing for 30 days,” Dr. Rice said. “We’d be very happy if we didn’t ask for anything.”
Tennis over was reported from New York and Joey Roulette from Baltimore.