“We have LIFTOFF of the @NASAWebb Space Telescope!” NASA tweeted seven hours ago, sharing a 32-second video of the launch. “At 7:20am ET (12:20 UTC), the beginning of a new, exciting decade of science climbed to the sky,” they wrote, adding that the telescope “will change our understanding of space as we know it.”
The CBC reports:
The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope rocketed away Saturday on a high-stakes quest to behold light from the first stars and galaxies, and scour the universe for hints of life.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope soared from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, riding a European Ariane rocket into the Christmas morning sky. “What an amazing Christmas present,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.
The $10-billion US observatory hurtled toward its destination 1.6 million kilometres away, or more than four times beyond the moon. It will take a month to get there and another five months before its infrared eyes are ready to start scanning the cosmos. First, the telescope’s enormous mirror and sunshield need to unfurl; they were folded origami-style to fit into the rocket’s nose cone. Otherwise, the observatory won’t be able to peer back in time 13.7 billion years as anticipated, within a mere 100 million years of the universe-forming Big Bang. NASA administrator Bill Nelson called the telescope a time machine that will provide “a better understanding of our universe and our place in it: who we are, what we are, the search that’s eternal.”
“We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined,” Nelson said following liftoff, speaking from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. But he cautioned: “There are still innumerable things that have to work and they have to work perfectly…. We know that in great reward there is great risk….”
“We have delivered a Christmas gift today for humanity,” said Josef Aschbacher, the European Space Agency’s director general….
Cheers and applause erupted in and outside Launch Control following the telescope’s flawless launch…
Official online dashboards are now tracking its position. (And you can watch complete footage of the entire launch here.) “If all goes well, the sunshield will be opened three days after liftoff, taking at least five days to unfold and lock into place,” the CBC points out. “Next, the mirror segments should open up like the leaves of a drop-leaf table, 12 days or so into the flight.”
In all, hundreds of release mechanisms need to work — perfectly — in order for the telescope to succeed. Such a complex series of actions is unprecedented — “like nothing we’ve done before,” noted NASA program director Greg Robinson.
Thanks to Slashdot readers Dave Knott and hackertourist for sharing the news…