An artist’s concept of the fully deployed and unfolded James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently on its way to a spot called L2, where it will orbit the sun. It is now 600,000 miles from Earth. Adriana Manrique Gutierrez/NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope has opened golden mirrors Saturday in the final stage of its deployment since launch.

Iran PressSci & Tech: Astronomers are starting to breathe again.

Two weeks ago, the most powerful space observatory ever built roared into the sky, carrying the hopes and dreams of a generation of astronomers in a tightly wrapped package of mirrors, wires, motors, cables, latches and willowy sheets of thin plastic on a pillar of smoke and fire, The New York Times reported.

On Saturday, the observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, completed a final, crucial step around 10:30 a.m. by unfolding the last section of its golden, hexagonal mirrors. Nearly three hours later, engineers sent commands to latch those mirrors into place, a step that amounted to it becoming fully deployed, according to NASA.

It was the most recent of a series of delicate maneuvers with what the space agency called 344 “single points of failure” while speeding far away in space. Now the telescope is almost ready for business, although more tense moments are still in its future.

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“I’m emotional about it,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science chief, said of all the telescope’s mirrors finally clicking into place. “What an amazing milestone — we see that beautiful pattern out there in the sky now almost complete.”

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after a former NASA administrator who oversaw the formative years of the Apollo program, is 25 years and $10 billion in the making. It is three times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope and designed to see further into the past than its celebrated predecessor in order to study the first stars and galaxies to turn on in the dawn of time.

The launch on an Ariane rocket on the morning of Dec. 25 was flawless; so flawless that the engineers said it saved enough maneuvering fuel to extend the mission’s estimated 10-year lifetime, perhaps by as much as an additional 10 years, said Mike Menzel, a mission systems engineer at NASA Goddard. But the telescope must complete a month-long journey to a spot a million miles up, far beyond the moon’s orbit, called L2, where gravitational fields of the Earth and sun commingle to produce the conditions for a stable orbit around the sun.


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