NASA engineers have successfully opened the huge main mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope, launched two weeks ago, thus completing the complex process of placing all parts of the most advanced telescope in history that continues on its way to the intended orbit. Enthusiastic applause filled the control room in Baltimore Tuesday night, after the second wing of the mirror opened.
The 6.5-meter-diameter mirror, the largest ever launched into space, is covered in gold to aid in the reflection of infrared light. In all, engineers in the past week have performed at least 50 178-pin release operations on all parts of the telescope that were folded due to their sheer size, including installing a sunshade the size of a tennis court.
“NASA has achieved another engineering milestone that has been worked on for decades,” said agency director Bill Nelson. “I join the team of Webb who breathes more easily and imagines breakthroughs that will provide inspiration to the world.”
The telescope, built for more than 20 years, is still moving toward its intended orbit, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, which it is expected to reach in about two weeks. NASA will then begin testing all scientific facilities and mirror elements to allow the telescope to begin observing the depths of the universe in the middle of the current year, to learn about the early stages after the Big Bang and the evolution of galaxies and stars.