Hubble’s Successor Passes Final Functional Test Before Launch

April 14, 2011 - NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing. Image Credit: NASA Goddard

Things are looking good for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The project was first thought of back in 1996 as the Next Generation Space Telescope and this ambitious project had a very long and difficult road to travel. But it seems now that we are truly getting close to a launch.

NASA has announced that the telescope has completed the final functional performance tests. Internal electronics are all functioning and the observatory and its four instruments are all sending and receiving data as they should. Similar tests were conducted following environmental testing where JWST was put under similar stress conditions it will experience during launch.

The testing ran for 17 days making sure that everything was running smoothly. Each electrical box on the telescope has two sides, a crucial redundancy to prepare for the unexpected. The observatory will be far beyond the orbit of the Moon, so once it is up there, it will be on its own. So everything has got be working right from the get-go.

“It’s been amazing to witness the level of expertise, commitment, and collaboration across the team during this important milestone,” Jennifer Love-Pruitt, Northrop Grumman’s electrical vehicle engineering lead on the Webb observatory, said in a statement. “It’s definitely a proud moment because we demonstrated Webb’s electrical readiness. The successful completion of this test also means we are ready to move forward toward launch and on-orbit operations.”

If everything goes according to plan JWST will launch on October 31, 2021.

In 2002, the telescope received its current name honoring the NASA administrator from 1961 to 1969 during the Apollo program. The choice turned out to be controversial in 2015 when it came to light that Webb had a hand in the state-sponsored purge of gay and bisexual scientists and civil servants from federal jobs, facilitating homophobic policy discussions among US senators.

Webb deliberately excluded women from the astronaut program during his tenure as NASA administrator and widely shared his misogynistic views on women in the US forces. The US Naval Academy's first female officers graduated in 1980. Webb was a professor there and he chose to publish the essay "Women Can't Fight" to make his feelings about the matter clear.

The calls for renaming JWST have been numerous over the last several years from astronomers and science communicators alike including Dr Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Dr Sarah Tuttle, Dr Lucianne Walkowicz, Dr Brian NordPhil Plait, and Matthew Francis.

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