CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The Hubble Space Telescope’s successor is a time-traveling wonder capable of peering back to within a hair’s breadth of the dawn of the universe. And it's finally on the brink of flight.
It will be the biggest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever to leave the planet, elaborate in its design and ambitious in its scope. At a budget-busting $10 billion, it is the most expensive and also the trickiest, by far, to pull off.
Set to soar after years of delay on Friday, the James Webb Space Telescope will seek out the faint, twinkling light from the first stars and galaxies, providing a glimpse into cosmic creation. Its infrared eyes will also stare down black holes and hunt for alien worlds, scouring the atmospheres of planets for water and other possible hints of life.
“That’s why it’s worth taking risks. That’s why it’s worth the agony and the sleepless nights,” NASA's science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen said in an interview with The Associated Press.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he's more nervous now than when he launched on space shuttle Columbia in 1986.
Hubble telescope's bigger, more powerful successor to soar
Memorial planned for space exploration workers in Alabama
Final goodbye: Recalling influential people who died in 2021
Time magazine's "Person of the Year" is Elon Musk
“There are over 300 things, any one of which goes wrong, it is not a good day," Nelson told the AP. "So the whole thing has got to work perfectly.”
The Webb telescope is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit into the nose cone of the European Ariane rocket for liftoff from the coast of French Guiana in South America. Its light-collecting mirror is the size of several parking spots and its sunshade the size of a tennis court. Everything needs to be unfolded once the spacecraft is speeding toward its perch 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away.