Daniel Clery in Science:
On 11 July, in a live broadcast from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled the first image from what he called a “miraculous” new space telescope. Along with millions of people around the world, he marveled at a crush of thousands of galaxies, some seen as they were 13 billion years ago. “It’s hard to even fathom,” Biden said.
Not many telescopes get introduced by the president, but JWST, the gold-plated wunderkind of astronomy built by NASA with the help of the European and Canadian space agencies, deserves that honor. It is the most complex science mission ever put into space and at $10 billion the most expensive. And it did not come easy. Its construction on Earth took 20 years and faced multiple setbacks. New perils came during the telescope’s monthlong, 1.5-million-kilometer journey into space, as its giant sunshield unfurled and its golden mirror blossomed. Engineers ticked off a total of 344 critical steps—any one of which could have doomed the mission had they gone wrong.