WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE LAUNCHED BY NASA ON CHRISTMAS DAY IS 100X MORE POWERFUL THAN HUBBLE TELESCOPE

On Christmas day the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope rocketed away on a high-stakes quest to behold light from the first stars and galaxies and scour the universe for hints of life. 

NASA launched the pioneering James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, riding a European Ariane rocket into the early Christmas morning sky​. Reuters reported that flight engineers celebrated as it smoothly glided off into space. 

The launch was a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, to build and launch the new 7-ton telescope, with thousands of people from 29 countries working on it since the 1990’s.

Known as Webb, the $10 billion observatory hurtled toward its destination 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away, or more than four times farther than the moon. It will take a month to get there and another five months before it becomes fully operational and to start scanning the cosmos.​

The Webb is 100 times more powerful and six times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope that launched in 1990, according to Business Insider.

Over the ​next six months, the telescope will unfold, align mirrors, calibrate instruments, reach a temperature of minus 380-degree Fahrenheit, and reach a distance of a million miles from Earth. 

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 five-layered sunshield, vital for keeping the light-gathering mirror and heat sensing infrared detectors at subzero temperatures, and is about the size of a tennis court.

In all, hundreds of release mechanisms need to work, perfectly, in order for the telescope to succeed. “Like nothing we’ve done before,” NASA program director Greg Robinson said.

Around the world, astronomers had eagerly waited to see Webb finally taking flight after years of setbacks. Last-minute technical snags bumped the launch nearly a week, as the gusty wind pushed it back to Christmas. Inside Launch Control, there was a smattering of Santa hats, according to reports.

Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel said minutes before liftoff, “After Webb, we will never see the skies in quite the same way.” And, NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said, “People have never seen the universe as Webb will show it to us.”

Retired astronaut-astronomer Steven Hawley is more is more stressed over Webb than he was for Hubble, which he released into orbit from space shuttle Discovery in 1990. That’s because Webb will be too far away for rescuing, as was necessary when Hubble turned out to have blurry vision from, a defective mirror.

Mired in delays and budgeting issues, Webb reportedly caused further controversy as James Webb, the second NASA administrator and namesake of the telescope, was accused by a petition, of enforcing discriminatory policies against LGBTQ NASA employees in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson previously said that the agency “found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.”

The launch is one of multiple for NASA in 2021. The agency, in partnership with SpaceX, planned and launched a rocket in November designed to collide with a threatening asteroid.

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