The Telescope of the “Future”

James Webb Space Telescope

Living up to its futuristic shape, James Webb Space Telescope is indeed a telescope of “future”: NASA has delayed its launch so many times that this telescope seems to only exist in the future. Jokes aside, the JWST carries with itself enormous scientific potential: it is supposed to be 100 times stronger than the Hubble Space Telescope and can examine every phase of cosmic evolution. Blake Bullock—a director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the contractor on the project—believes that this telescope will allow scientists to see the baby days of the universe. However, people will not see such potential materialize until March 2021, at the earliest. On the one hand, there are varieties of new technologies that this telescope employ. Some of the technologies even had to be invented to fit the needs of this telescope. JWST’s breath-taking mirror is made of smaller hexagonal beryllium mirrors that are coated with gold and can be adjusted individually to focus the light perfectly. And no one has ever used sun shields like those on the JWST before. Therefore, all these components pose incredible challenges for delivering this telescope on time. On the other hand, there seems to be too many human mistakes. Screws were left untightened; wrong solvent were used; wrong voltage was used, and etc.. All these mistakes caused unnecessary delays that render this project to be much more expensive than expected. 9 billion dollars has been used on JWST, which was budgeted at 1 billion dollars. Northrop Grumman has been criticized for these mistakes, and the government thought about eliminating this project. Luckily for JWST, an independent board reviewed it and recommended not to do so. Still, this fiasco exposed some structural flaws within NASA’s relationship with its contractors, and there may be a bigger problem that relates how scientists envision projects in the first place. Nevertheless, once it is  launched, James Webb Space Telescope will be extremely valuable, and all the taxpayer dollars may just be worth it. At this point, we can only hope it launches next year.

One thought on “The Telescope of the “Future”

  1. The whole process of waiting for JWST to launch has taught me a whole lot about patience, but I’m sure the payoff will be well worth the wait. Especially when working in tandem with other observatories such as WFIRST, I can’t wait to see what kinds of things we’ll find with it!

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