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Webb Space Telescope: Looking back helps us move forward
Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. - photo by Image courtesy of NASA

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope launched on a NASA rocket late in December with equipment unfolding along the way. Its pieces are now fully deployed into a space observatory.

Webb’s journey will end at a stable gravitational area called sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), which allows the spacecraft to “park” using minimal fuel, according to

By May, the first images should be available from the most powerful space telescope ever. Scientists hope Webb will look back in time to the very beginnings of our universe. It is designed to see light from the earliest galaxies to form after the Big Bang and will let scientists study the atmospheres of planets that orbit distant stars, to search for signs of life, NPR reports.

The mission of Webb will continue the legacy of the Hubble Space Telescope that launched in 1990. That milestone mission was initially considered a huge failure by many. Shortly after Hubble was deployed, operators discovered a problem with its primary mirror that resulted in blurry images. NASA corrected the problem by adding replacement parts that worked much the way a pair of glasses can correct the vision of a near-sighted person. Meanwhile, Hubble images were enhanced using computer image reconstruction.

Hubble has transformed our understanding of the universe and Webb will add to our knowledge as well. Back in 1608, a Dutch lensmaker named Hans Lippershey invented what is believed to be the first telescope, and within a year, Galileo Galilei created his own telescope and used it to look at the heavens. NASA’s first successful space-based telescope was launched in 1968. 

What do we get from all of this effort? According to NASA, for almost 60 years, human activity in space has created challenges that sparked new scientific and technological knowledge. “Space exploration has contributed to many diverse aspects of everyday life, from solar panels to implantable heart monitors, from cancer therapy to light‐weight materials, and from water‐purification systems to improved computing systems and to a global search‐and‐rescue system.” Space exploration also fulfills cultural needs, addressing our curiosity by providing new information about our galaxy. This is inspiring, and may also help us to address global challenges.