Launch of Webb Space Telescope delayed

The James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch in 2020.
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch in 2020.
Image: NASA.
NASA is pushing back the target date for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, lauded as a marvel of engineering. 

     The launch is now expected to happen in May 2020 -- instead of 2019 -- to allow researchers and engineers to finish tasks needed to ensure the telescope operates correctly. While 100 percent of the observatory's flight hardware is complete, more time is needed to test and integrate components and then perform environmental testing, according to the space agency.
   To date, NASA has invested $7.3 billion on the telescope. As the project moves forward, it may surpass its $8 billion limit and require reauthorization from Congress.
    The telescope was described as "a tremendous feat of human engineering," by NASA's acting director, Robert Lightfoot, who spoke during a teleconference Tuesday. "It is going to leave a legacy of exceptional science and technical innovation for decades. It's loaded ... with pioneering technology and it's also the largest international space science project in U.S. history."
    Lightfoot said congressional staff members have been notified about the possibility that the project will need to be reauthorized. He wasn't able to say how much additional funding would be needed.
    What will the telescope do and why does it matter? Here is the rundown, along with links for further study:

What is it? The James Webb Space Telescope will be the most powerful space observatory ever developed, according to NASA. It will complement the work of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other science missions.

What will it do? NASA identifies one of the telescope’s primary uses as studying atmospheres of exoplanets. Researchers will use the telescope to search these atmospheres for evidence of life.
    The telescope will be able to take direct images of exoplanets near bright stars. By studying these images, scientists can discern seasonal differences, vegetation and weather on distant planets.
    Webb will be an infrared telescope. That is a benefit because at infrared wavelengths “molecules in the atmospheres of exoplanets have the largest number of spectral features,” according to NASA.

Which agency is running the show? It is an international project led by NASA with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Who was James Webb? Webb (1906-1992) was the second administrator of the space agency, serving from February 1961 to October 1968, according to NASA. His philosophy was to strike a balance between human space flight and science. Webb, a native of North Carolina, became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served as a pilot on active duty from 1930 to 1932. He returned to the Marines during World War II and afterward worked in government agencies and private industry. But he is best known for his work as administrator for NASA. In the movie Hidden Figures, about the contributions of African-American women to the space program, Webb was portrayed by actor Ken Strunk.


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