NASA’s next flagship observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, is gearing up for its launch to space on Saturday morning — finally. The Webb telescope is the biggest observatory built for launch into space. Its 18 gold-plated mirrors make for a system that is far more sensitive than the Hubble Space Telescope, which it will succeed as humanity’s most powerful scientific instrument for studying the formation of our universe and distant worlds in our galaxy.
But the Webb, with a price tag of some $10 billion, has trudged through one of the most fraught development timelines of any space program, lasting over two decades and costing billions more than its original estimate.
“The stuff they faced was what a lot of space programs face, because everything has to be perfect on a spacecraft like that — you can’t go fix it after launch,” said Cristina Chaplain, who for roughly a decade led audits of the James Webb Space Telescope at the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog agency.
“It’s very complex and fragile,” she said. “There’s going to be mistakes, but on a program like that, one little teensy thing can have dramatic consequences.”
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