♪ ♪ KENNETH HARRIS: When you really think about someone saying, "Let's invent a telescope that can see back to the Big Bang," like, what?
(chuckles) ANTONELLA NOTA: The telescope will be so powerful, people will be simply blown away, because they will not be able to recognize what they see.
NARRATOR: 28 feet tall, weighing in at seven tons, decades in the making.
We tested and we tested and we tested just to make sure that this is going to actually work.
NARRATOR: A telescope designed to peer deep into the cosmos like no telescope ever has.
NÉSTOR ESPINOZA: Such talented people have been worried about every little bolt that goes into this.
NARRATOR: Are years and years of hard work finally paying off?
MIKE MENZEL: Is this the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night?
Yes, this is the stuff that keeps me up at night.
NARRATOR: Now the first images are coming in.
AMBER STRAUGHN: The future of astrophysics in this country is depending on this telescope.
NARRATOR: "Ultimate Space Telescope," right now, on "NOVA."
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ MATT MOUNTAIN: How did the universe come into being?
How do galaxies form?
We don't know.
LOUIS-GREGORY STROLGER: We really want to understand how the universe evolved, so we better understand how we got here.
What our place is in that universe.
Are we alone is definitely one of the key questions that I would love to answer.
KNICOLE COLÓN: There are billions of stars.
That means there are billions of planets.
There's got to be something besides Earth that has life on it.
HARRIS: The one thing I'm most excited about is not just one question, but it's really, what will we discover that we weren't expecting to discover?
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: It is the largest, most innovative space telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe to solve some of astronomy's greatest cosmological mysteries.
It's hard to even imagine what this telescope's going to discover.
♪ ♪ STEFANIE MILAM: This is going to be the next big thing for astrophysics.
We are going to rewrite the textbooks.
NARRATOR: This is the story of the next great space telescope, built on a scale never attempted before, and of the thousands of people who have dedicated years guiding it into space.
I've been working this job for about 24 years.
I started the program back in 2012.
I started working on this project in '95.
I've been working on it for 20 years.
For 13 years.
There are people that have literally spent their careers working on this telescope, their entire careers!
MOUNTAIN: It's taken far longer than we expected to get it all working.
But this is the hardest, most complex telescope humanity has ever built.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The James Webb Space Telescope, also known as JWST, pushes the limits of engineering.
Its mirror is massive, 21 feet in diameter.
Compared to its famous predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, this mirror is a monster.
JWST also has a first-of-its-kind sunshield, the size of a tennis court.
ALPHONSO STEWART: You know, you hear the phrase, "The sunshield as large as a tennis court."
I'm, like, okay.
But actually standing next to it, I'm, like, "Wow.
This is huge."
STRAUGHN: This telescope is so big that we actually had to build it so that it folds up to fit inside the nose cone of the rocket.
And then it deploys once it gets into space.
It's an origami telescope.
♪ ♪ MENZEL: We take a world-class telescope, we've built it, we've tuned it, we've aligned it, we've proved it works.
It's a work of art-- it really is a work of art.
And then we bust it up, fold it up, put it on the launcher, shake it, and then we have to rebuild-- and I do mean this-- literally rebuild it on orbit, realign it on orbit, refocus it on orbit, retune it on orbit, all robotically.
NARRATOR: Now take this origami telescope and send it a million miles from Earth, about 3,000 times farther than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Too far for astronauts to fix it if something goes wrong.
STRAUGHN: Humans have only been as far away from Earth as the moon, and this telescope will be four times further away.
That's one of the things that makes this telescope so difficult and so daunting.
You know, we have to get it right.
We have to get it right-- we can't go fix it.
THOMAS ZURBUCHEN: The deployment, just, the sunshield, the mirror, it's, like, ah, really?
This is... Why would anybody dream up this complex a mission?
NARRATOR: Why send such a complex machine so far away that you can't fix it?
What secrets will it reveal that the most powerful telescopes in our arsenal today cannot?
To answer these questions, we travel back in time, to December 1995.
As the holiday season kicks into gear, the Hubble Space Telescope peers into what seems to be a relatively empty patch of the night sky.
Honestly, it was a bit of a risk, because we'd never done anything like this before.
MOUNTAIN: We wanted to look at a single point in the sky and just ask the simple question, is anything there?
And let's just stare.
And it's an area about the size of a drinking straw.
There were, you know, lots of prominent astronomers who just thought it wouldn't work.
STROLGER: It was a contentious thing among some folks that we would spend that much time looking at an empty patch of sky.
But boy, did it pay off.
NARRATOR: After ten days of staring into darkness, thousands upon thousands of galaxies appear.
STRAUGHN: And it was just, it was stunning.
It stunned everybody, including me as a kid.
NARRATOR: This landmark image is called the Hubble Deep Field.
Hubble Deep Field is my favorite.
That's my favorite image of all.
There were literally thousands of galaxies in an area of the sky that, up until that particular image, we didn't even know anything existed.
It told us once again that, um, we have no clue.
(chuckles) You know, we think we're smart-- we have no clue.
NARRATOR: This is the first of a series of deep field images.
Over the years, Hubble would reveal even more.
Of the tens of thousands of objects in these images, only a few are stars.
Most are galaxies.
CAITLIN CASEY: There are galaxies with ornate spiral structure, and weird shapes and sizes.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Some of these oddly shaped galaxies are incredibly old.
Billions of years old.
One of the amazing things about telescopes is that they are literally time machines.
They allow us to see the universe as it was in the distant past.
(birds chirping) NARRATOR: Light travels in waves at 186,000 miles per second.
JEYHAN KARTALTEPE: Light that's emitted from the sun takes eight minutes to reach us.
So, if we go outside and you look at the sun, you're really seeing the sun eight minutes ago.
You can imagine just further stepping out in the universe.
The nearest star to us is four light-years away.
That means light has taken four years to arrive to us.
NARRATOR: The nearest galaxies are tens of thousands of light-years away, so we are seeing these galaxies not as they are today, but as they were tens of thousands of years ago.
We are actually able to see in the past by looking at distant galaxies, because that light left so long ago, we're seeing them as they were in the past.
NARRATOR: As astronomers scoured the Hubble Deep Fields, they noticed something strange.
We began to see little orange dots, sort of little smudges.
NOTA: These red, faint objects, they looked different.
They were redder, they were amorphous.
They looked like jellyfish.
Those were really the farthest galaxies the Hubble has ever observed-- that humans have ever observed.
NARRATOR: The farther away a galaxy is, the redder it appears to our telescopes.
This strange phenomenon is called redshift.
What's happening in the universe is, it's expanding and pulling space apart as it goes, and it's stretching the light in the same way.
When an object is moving towards us, the light waves get smushed, and shorter light waves are bluer.
As an object moves away, the light waves get essentially stretched, and longer wavelengths are red.
And so, when we're talking about galaxies in the distant universe, they're all moving away from us, and so in essence, their light is stretched, redder and redder.
Now, the more distant galaxies, they are far enough away that their light has been stretched all the way out of the visible part of the spectrum and into the infrared.
NARRATOR: The instruments onboard Hubble can see some of those infrared waves.
NOTA: Hubble has done amazing stuff, but it has found its limitation.
NARRATOR: JWST is designed to see a lot more, further into the infrared part of the spectrum, and further back in time.
JWST will push that window open.
It will just completely revolutionize our way of seeing the universe.
People will be simply blown away, because they will not be able to recognize what they see.
NARRATOR: But for JWST to capture those long wavelengths of infrared light, the telescope will be about 3,000 times farther from Earth than Hubble, because capturing this ancient light is very tricky.
With this infrared camera, team member Knicole Colón demonstrates why, using her hand, along with a common household garbage bag.
When Knicole places her hand inside the garbage bag, you can't see it.
But with that infrared camera... COLÓN: You can actually see my hand with infrared light because you're seeing through the dark trash bag to see my glow.
You're seeing my, my emitted radiation.
(laughs): My emitted heat.
NARRATOR: Any object that emits heat can be detected in the infrared.
But there's a catch, and it's a big one.
Earth sends out heat-- you send out heat.
We all send out heat.
MILAM: So does the moon.
And, obviously, the sun.
NARRATOR: Even the telescope can emit heat.
STRAUGHN: If we want to see things that are glowing in the universe in infrared light, the telescope itself has to be extremely cold, so that it's not glowing and sort of seeing itself.
MILAM: So, this is why we have a funny-looking, boat-shaped telescope.
(laughs) So we can actually protect the instruments and the mirrors, and keep them cold and away from all of that thermal energy of the Earth and the sun.
NARRATOR: The side facing the sun, moon, and Earth can heat up to a toasty 230 degrees Fahrenheit, while the telescope is kept a frigid -394 degrees Fahrenheit.
MENZEL: If that sunshield were suntan lotion, it would have an SPF of about ten million.
NARRATOR: The telescope can stay this cold a million miles away, at a gravitational sweet spot known as L2.
Here, JWST will follow Earth's path as it orbits around the sun, the sunshield continuously protecting it from the light of the sun, the Earth, and the moon.
But if anything goes wrong, it's too far away astronauts to fix it.
NASA is still haunted by the Hubble Space Telescope's rocky start.
LEE FEINBERG: Hubble got in space, they got the first images, and they realized they couldn't focus the telescope.
The images were blurry.
BOLDEN: It's horrible.
It's out of focus, it's, it's horrible.
And as a crew member who had deployed Hubble, I was devastated.
What did we do that damaged Hubble?
FEINBERG: It turned out that the primary mirror of Hubble was essentially built to the wrong prescription, as though you have the wrong eyeglasses.
NARRATOR: Astronauts rendezvoused with the telescope more than 300 miles above Earth in a daring maneuver to repair it.
♪ ♪ (cheering) We did it!
NORA LÜTZGENDORF: The big difference between JWST and Hubble is that we won't be able to service it.
But we also knew this from the beginning.
Once, since we built JWST, we knew this.
We could not afford something like Hubble, where the mirror wasn't working-- we cannot afford this.
MENZEL: Exploration involves risk.
If you're not willing to take the risk, you don't belong in this business.
And if you're doing a project where there's no risk, chances are you're dealing, you're doing a project that's not doing a lot of exploring.
And, you know, people at NASA, myself and others, that are used to this kind of thing, we know that, you know, that nice saying, "Failure is not an option," and it's not.
But it's an ever-present possibility.
Deal with it.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The building of the ultimate space telescope would turn out to be more fraught with problems than anyone expected.
In fact, it was originally scheduled to launch in 2007.
Not only did NASA fail to meet that deadline, by 2009, when Charles Bolden took over as the NASA administrator, the mission was already billions of dollars over budget.
BOLDEN: I get asked a lot of times, was JWST ever really in trouble?
Or was it so important that it was going to go no matter what?
It was in trouble.
NARRATOR: Even NASA's staunchest supporters in the Senate questioned the mission's price tag.
BARBARA MIKULSKI: Quite frankly, we, we, on a bipartisan basis, cannot sustain technology with repeated cost overruns.
BOLDEN: During those hearings, you can really watch me cowering sometimes, in front of Senator Mikulski, because she was asking the tough questions.
We were troubled about its management, we were troubled about the use of money.
BOLDEN: Senator Mikulski told me the last time we talked to her, "Don't come back.
"If you come back, I'm not going to see you.
"I'm just gonna, as much, as valuable as I think JWST is, "I'm not gonna, I won't even entertain you coming back into my office."
MENZEL: Some of those problems were mistakes-- shame on us.
But people make mistakes.
What you don't want to do is start infusing in people, especially your engineers and your, your test technicians, an environment that says, "Oh, don't make a mistake, "and if you do, it's more profitable to hide it than to let it out."
If they're going to cancel us, they're going to cancel us, but we're going to do the honest thing.
We're going to just keep, keep soldiering on and that's that.
NARRATOR: The team would spend the next several years struggling to solve daunting problems.
Developing new materials that are both lightweight and strong, while designing a telescope that can fit inside the nose cone of a rocket.
STEWART: One of the things you have to realize is that you design something, and you're building it.
At the same time, you're discovering problems, and you're fixing it while you're still building it.
You're almost doing two things in parallel.
NARRATOR: One of the mission's biggest challenges?
Building a machine that can survive the bitter cold temperatures of L2.
The cryogenic aspect of this mission should not be underestimated in the least.
Things become brittle, things could break easy.
And then even the mirrors themselves... You know, if you looked at these mirrors and how they behave at ambient temperatures, they wouldn't look that good, because we had to anticipate the way the mirrors warp as they cool down, so that they would warp into the right shape at cryogenic temperatures.
And that took quite a few iterations to do.
FEINBERG: The primary mirror itself was maybe the hardest challenge.
But the second-hardest challenge was figuring out how to test the telescope, because the telescope was so large, and it had to be cooled in order to be tested.
NARRATOR: To do that, they had to move the telescope from Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a critical test.
FEINBERG: We actually treated the test itself almost like a mission, a space mission.
They had this very large vacuum chamber that was used to test the Apollo lander.
NARRATOR: The test was conducted inside chamber A, built in the 1960s for the Apollo missions.
It mimics the frigid environment of space.
We did a number of modifications to the chamber to make it be able to go to the operational temperature it would have in space.
And we literally had to build a custom-sized clean room around chamber A in order to have the telescope in a extremely sterile environment, so that dust and debris didn't affect any of the instrumentation, but more specifically the mirrors, which we were, you know, obviously concerned about.
(device beeping) BEGOÑA VILA: It was the first time the whole set of the mirrors was being cooled down together to the operational temperatures, and also the first time we could exercise the algorithm to align the mirrors.
FEINBERG: So, what we wanted to see is that when you have all 18 mirrors, that you can actually get a nice image-- that they can all be aligned together.
We started the test over the summer, and it takes literally 30 days to cool the telescope inside of this large vacuum chamber.
And literally just as the 30 days ended, and we finally hit this very cold temperature where the mirrors are below 50 degrees above absolute zero, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
♪ ♪ (wind whipping and howling) (helicopter whirring) Anxiety was flaring with everyone, because this is the main part of the telescope, you know, directly in the path of a major hurricane.
And you know, there's nothing you can do to stop a natural disaster.
Luckily, the telescope was already inside the chamber, and that was the safest place for the telescope to be.
NARRATOR: As long as the power stays on.
We could not lose electricity.
We could not lose that cold environment.
If things start warming up very fast, the whole telescope could have been damaged-- that would have been terrible.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Johnson Space Center goes into lockdown-- only a skeleton crew is permitted on site.
When you are there, you truly don't know hour to hour.
We will get tornado warnings on our phones.
NARRATOR: Harvey causes $125 billion in damage.
Nearly ten percent of the population of Texas is displaced.
Some of the team members lived in Houston, so they had their families at home, so they're hoping their families are safe.
I think that was a lot for them to carry.
NARRATOR: Fortunately, the team, their families, and JWST make it through the storm.
And that's only the beginning of the good news.
FEINBERG: All the tests showed that the primary mirror worked as we expected.
And so, we were able to show that all 18 mirrors could work as though they were a single, monolithic mirror.
NARRATOR: Decades of hard work seem to have paid off.
(rattling) But about a year later, the bottom drops out when the telescope is put through a rigorous vibration test to ensure it will survive launch.
BOLDEN: When they finished the shake, they opened up the test cell and there were little bitty screws in the bottom of the test cell.
NARRATOR: Congress holds two days of hearings with representatives from NASA and JWST's prime contractor, Northrop Grumman.
Their goal: to find out what went so horribly wrong.
LAMAR SMITH: This is 19 times the original cost and a delay of 14 years; it doesn't get much worse than that.
ZURBUCHEN: It started with a very optimistic and unrealistic cost estimate with a huge promise.
It's like relationships that we have in our lives.
If you start with a lie, it's usually not going to last.
So, so it...
This one, unfortunately, started with a lie, with well-intended, positive, overly optimistic judgment of what it will take to do this.
NARRATOR: Then another controversy makes news.
Back in 2002, the telescope had been named after James Webb, the NASA administrator who led the agency during the early days of the Apollo program.
He's also known for his support for the robotic exploration of space.
But in spring 2021, a group of astronomers petitions to change the name, citing Webb's leadership roles in federal government during the 1950s and '60s, when homophobic and discriminatory policies forced gay and lesbian employees out of their jobs.
A few months later, the current NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, says the agency has found no evidence at this time that warrants a name change.
Despite the many years of turmoil, JWST is prepped for its final journey to the European Space Agency's launch pad in French Guiana.
It weighs in at a whopping seven tons, and is 28 feet tall.
It is by far the largest space telescope ever built.
At the same time, it's fragile.
HARRIS: There was a time where a small piece of tape fell onto one of the mirrors, and we had to, we had to fly someone out from that specific company to remove the tape with a pair of tweezers.
(chuckles): So, so I'd say they have to be extremely clean.
GREGORY ROBINSON: Even a human hair would just destroy something.
The shipping container itself takes years to prepare.
You want the right size, you need a certain environment to keep it environmentally stable.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Enclosed in what is essentially a mobile clean room, JWST has crossed the country from Maryland, to Texas, to Northrop Grumman in California.
Today, it begins a 5,800-mile sea voyage that will take it through the Panama Canal, along the coast of South America, and down to the launch pad in French Guiana.
Traveling via ship is considered the safest mode of transportation for the delicate giant.
The JW has this sheer volume-ness to it in everything that it does.
It, it's very sensitive, but it is very large.
It has small numbers of things and very large numbers of things.
Yeah, it's, it's just, it's just extreme in everything you can think about.
It's an extreme observatory.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: As launch day approaches, every inch of this extreme machine is checked and double-checked before it's placed on the Ariane 5 rocket.
♪ ♪ For most missions that we have, we may have, you know, ten, five, you know, kind of things that we worry about.
If one of them doesn't work, you cannot do anything about it.
♪ ♪ JWST had 344.
NARRATOR: 344 single points of failure.
Pins that have to release.
Latches that must lock into place.
Hundreds of mechanisms needed to deploy the telescope in space.
ESPINOZA: Single points of failure make you nervous.
Each of those things have to work.
If they don't, then everything breaks behind it.
I mean, to be the first to do something like this, there's risks, and you have to take them.
Otherwise, you don't cross the river, we call it back in my hometown.
NARRATOR: While millions around the world celebrate the holidays, the JWST team gets a special present.
ESPINOZA: I feel like a little kid.
This is the best Christmas present ever, I think.
I was talking with some colleagues that this is like one of these few Christmases in which the parents are more excited than the kids.
NARRATOR: Due to the pandemic, most team members watch the launch from the safety of home.
But they still find ways to stay connected to each other.
LÜTZGENDORF: Especially with my female colleagues, I feel a really big connection.
We have, like, a little WhatsApp group, and we, we painted our nails golden to have, like, some connection with each other, and that felt, felt really good!
(exhales) JESSICA HART: I'm feeling very excited, maybe a little nervous, because it's my first mission and I've never experienced this, you know, high tension of launch day before.
But very excited.
NARRATOR: At the European Space Agency's launch site, the countdown begins.
ANNOUNCER: Well, at this hour, countdown clocks are ticking backward.
We are at T-minus 13 minutes, 32 seconds and counting.
NARRATOR: Team members from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency have come together to guide their telescope into space.
It's really amazing to see all these teams working together.
International cooperation is the key to make really great projects happen.
ANNOUNCER: Out on the launchpad, everything is in great shape.
Don't let those clouds fool you.
We are go for launch.
So, we're set for launch.
It's fueled, we're nervous.
(laughing) (speaking French) ANNOUNCER: Thumbs up from Jean-Luc Voyer.
All systems are go.
We're inside a minute now, T-minus 50 seconds and counting.
Standing by for terminal count.
(Voyer counting down in French) ESPINOZA: I was squeezing my wife's hand very tightly, because I was super-nervous.
(engine roaring) ANNOUNCER: And we have engine start.
(exhales) I'm always the most scared of the real, like, liftoff, the big explosion.
ANNOUNCER: And liftoff.
ANNOUNCER: Décollage, liftoff from a tropical rainforest to the edge of time itself.
James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the universe.
(laughing, imitating rocket) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: But JWST is far from being out of the woods.
We're waiting for the decoupling of Webb.
(sighs): From the booster.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The telescope needs to separate from the upper stage of the Ariane rocket without smacking into it.
ANNOUNCER: Springs will gently push Webb away from the upper stage of the Ariane 5.
As it moves further and further away from the upper stage, there will be what we refer to as a collision avoidance maneuver.
(television playing) ♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: And there is the view from the upper stage camera on the Ariane 5, looking at the James Webb Space Telescope as it moves gently away from its launch vehicle.
(cheering softly) (exclaiming) Touchdown!
NARRATOR: But there's still one more critical step to go in the launch.
The telescope needs to deploy a key energy source-- its solar panels.
JW runs on battery and power, but the battery is limited in life, so without power you got few hours, and after that, all bets are off.
So, for me, you got to get the solar array out and generating power.
ANNOUNCER: There is the solar array having been deployed.
James Webb now... (quietly): Yes!
Um, we got power.
(people cheering on television) (exclaiming and laughing) We were able to see it live.
I wanted to scream.
(applauding and cheering) ROBINSON: We did not expect to see that.
That's when it really hit, that this thing is, it's gone.
My baby has launched, and she's on her way.
ANNOUNCER: Ironically enough, as we marvel on this view from the upper stage camera, this will be humanity's last view of the James Webb Space Telescope as it moves to its workplace about a million miles away from Earth.
NOTA: It was such a bittersweet moment, like saying goodbye.
It's this mixed emotion, like, almost like a parent, to see their child go into the universe, alone, in the cold space, but knowing that the telescope will do great things.
♪ ♪ MENZEL: I mean, the true history of this thing isn't so much the hardware.
In reality, it's going to be the, you know, the images and the data, and we're not there yet.
And, you know, I guess I'll breathe a sigh of relief when we get there.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Control of the telescope is passed from French Guiana... ...to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Here, the telescope's activities are monitored by team members from around the world.
STEWART: This is what we call the Mission Operations Center.
This area is divided into two main rooms.
The front room is where everything is focused to the MOM, mission operation manager, and it his job to kind of okay everything that we're going to do.
MAN: We can execute that, however... NARRATOR: The MOM, along with team members in the front room, are responsible for sending commands to the telescope.
In the room next door, experts assess the telescope's condition.
MAN: Will you let the... Will you be able to let the science... NARRATOR: Over the next several months, these rooms will run 24/7 as the team coordinates the most complicated part of the mission-- and what they've been preparing for for years: the deployment of their origami telescope.
Other missions, like missions that go to Mars, they have, like, these seven minutes of terror while they go down the atmosphere.
We will have days of terror.
(laughs) So, it's not for the faint of heart.
I will say that probably once the telescope is fully deployed, I'll be... (sighs deeply, laughs) NARRATOR: The deployment starts with the unfolding of the tennis-court-size sunshield, which has been tightly packed for launch.
This is risky business, because the sunshield's five layers are made of incredibly thin material.
STEWART: The material is just one mil.
It's like a potato chip bag.
It's hard to rip, but once you start to rip, it's easy to tear.
NARRATOR: So, they take their time.
First, commanding the telescope to carefully lower its two pallets that are holding the thin material in place.
You'll see one come down in the front, one come down in the back.
NARRATOR: Next, the primary mirror is raised.
MENZEL: Then after that, we start to unroll the covers on the sunshield.
And then there are two telescoping booms on the sides that will pull the sunshield membranes out.
We actually have to unfold it and tighten it up, almost like the sails on a ship.
But these big floppity membranes, in zero-g, they can go all over the place.
They can go places you don't want them to go.
They can, they can get in places where they could snag or tear or impede other, you know, other deployments.
NARRATOR: It takes eight days to unfold the sunshield.
But the hardest part is yet to come.
Now 90 cables, along with eight motors and hundreds of pulleys, must separate the five layers and stretch them tight, a process called tensioning.
STEWART: If you take all those layers and just bring them all together, it wouldn't be as effective, but to just sheerly, just separating them, those five layers, give you the extreme capability of that insulating property.
MENZEL: When am I going to start breathing, breathing a sigh of relief?
It's about when we tension the sunshield.
♪ ♪ STEWART: For the last year and a half, we've been practicing this day.
All of this is a culmination of testing, design, rehearsing, getting in the right place, getting the right people.
WOMAN (on radio): Okay, at this time, you go to execute.
STEWART: For me, it was a...
It was just an anxious moment.
The room was really quiet.
WOMAN 2 (on radio): Executing.
STEWART: I remember, you know, before that, you hear a lot of conversation, but when the sunshield-- the room was quiet.
WOMAN 1 (on radio): I can confirm motor stop.
STEWART: Everyone just focused on their monitor, temperature, communication.
You know, everything was just... Everybody was... (quietly): It was, like, "Wow."
WOMAN 1: Stand by while we review our motor movement parameters.
WOMAN 2: Standing by.
NARRATOR: JWST sends word back.
One layer is fully separated from the rest.
STEWART: It worked so well, we said, "Let's do the second one."
WOMAN 1: And you're go to continue.
STEWART: Second one worked so well, we said, "Let's do the third one."
And we said, "All right, that's enough."
(laughs): Let's... Let's just go on to the next day.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The next day, they tackle the final two layers.
MAN (on radio): We're a go at this time to finish sunshield tensioning layer five.
♪ ♪ WOMAN (on radio): I can confirm that all five layers of the sunshield are fully tensioned.
(applauding) MAN: Significant milestone accomplished.
Job well done, sunshield team, job well done.
NARRATOR: For a brief moment, the tension in mission ops has lifted.
♪ ♪ But quickly, the team gets back to work.
STEWART: Yes, we did this one, but we got more work to do-- let's just keep going.
NARRATOR: Dozens of potential single points of failure yet to overcome.
Now the team starts their next critical deployment: the secondary mirror.
Without a secondary mirror, there is no telescope.
CHARLES-PHILIPPE LAJOIE: Light from a star comes down and hits the primary mirror first.
The primary mirror has a almost parabolic shape, and that focuses the light, and it goes up and hits the secondary mirror, and that light then gets sent back towards the instruments.
FEINBERG: This was the hardest one to test on the ground, because it's so large.
You know, it's over seven meters in size.
And right now, you know, those composite struts are almost minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
And so, they're super-cold.
You have all these releases that have to happen.
Motors have to work precisely.
You have to come up against a hard stop.
You have to have a latch that, you know, works just... Everything has to go like clockwork.
MAN (on radio): We are go to proceed with the latch to safe, move two of three.
(woman speaking on radio) MAN: And O.C., that looks good, you're go to execute.
WOMAN 2 (on radio): Roger.
♪ ♪ FEINBERG: It latched into place, everything was nominal.
It was successful.
(applauding) I will say, today, I, uh, I felt really relieved.
(laughs) I felt really relieved, so that was good.
MENZEL: This is a simulation, based on our telemetry, of what our observatory looks like right now.
So, we just deployed the secondary mirror.
So right now, we actually have a telescope.
And by the way, as of right now, we have retired 283 of the 344 single point failures.
NARRATOR: There's just one major deployment to go-- the unfolding of each wing of the massive origami mirror.
(whirring) STRAUGHN: So you can sort of think of a telescope mirror like a light bucket.
You know, if you have a bucket sitting outside on a rainy day, a bigger bucket is going to collect more light.
So that's the first thing, is, a big mirror can collect more light.
The second thing is that the bigger your mirror is, the more detail you can see in the universe.
It's this idea of resolution.
You know, if you have a camera with more pixels, you can see finer resolution.
Same thing with a big telescope mirror.
NARRATOR: Size matters, but it's not enough.
That's why JWST's mirror is coated in a thin layer of gold.
It turns out gold is remarkably reflective for infrared light.
It reflects over 99% of all the light when it hits the mirror.
So we decided we will use a gold coating.
Not very much gold.
We literally only put in between 500 and 600 atoms across that surface.
Across the whole six-and-a-half meters, there's less than two ounces of gold.
ROBINSON: Looks like a whole lot of gold because we have a lot of surface area, but it's about the amount of five or six men wedding bands.
NARRATOR: While the gold-laden mirror can work without its wings, it cannot do the kind of ground-breaking science the team has been hoping for unless the primary mirror is fully deployed.
WOMAN (on radio): We're ready to command the launch lock releases.
The command line looks good, you're go to execute.
WOMAN 2 (on radio): Executing.
WOMAN 1: You're go to continue.
♪ ♪ O.C., you're go to fire.
WOMAN 3 (on radio): Copy go to fire.
(continues) NARRATOR: This is the moment team members have worked towards for decades.
MAN (on radio): ...OPS, we have reached the end of deployment.
And we have a fully deployed JWST observatory.
(applauding and cheering) STEWART: When the deployment lead said, you know, we had successful mirror deployment, I got up with my camera and just kind of panned the room.
I remember my project manager saying, "Take in the moment, don't forget the moment."
(applause continues) I think over time, it'll start hitting me more and more, start realizing this is really big.
This is really big.
(talking in background) Man, can you believe it?
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: About a month after launch, JWST is already a million miles from Earth.
Although the wings of the primary mirror unfolded without a hitch, its 18 segments still need to be aligned to work as one.
How do you align a telescope, how do you align segments in space?
We're doing it in a way, you know, that's never been done before.
NARRATOR: Each mirror is built with actuators, so its position can be tweaked: side to side, forward and backward-- just about any position you can think of.
FEINBERG: We'll be figuring out how to command the mirrors to essentially go from being a millimeter misalignment between mirrors to about a factor of a million better than that, about one-10,000th of a human hair from mirror to mirror.
NARRATOR: The process begins with a single star.
LAJOIE: So, first thing to do is take an image of a star.
We picked a very bright star with very few neighbors.
NARRATOR: A series of images are taken with an onboard camera called NIRCam.
LAJOIE: We don't know what it's going to look like, so that's going to be very exciting.
And the goal of this game is to find 18 images of the same star.
MAN: We're trying to find where the 18 different spots of light are, and I see one, two, three, four... FEINBERG: All right, who feels ambitious enough to point at all 18 of these?
FEINBERG: The very first images that we'll get will actually be of, essentially, 18 separate spots that are kind of, like, 18 separate telescopes, because each mirror kind of acts like its own telescope.
MAN: So, let's see, we got one, two, three, four, five, six... LAJOIE: Once we find 18 images of the same star...
Eight, nine, ten...
...I can tell you that our team is going to be very, very happy.
MAN: 15, 16, 17, and 18 is over there.
Definitely looks like all 18 segments.
So that's exactly what we're looking for.
MARCIA RIEKE: I'm in seventh heaven, because everything worked, and none of the issues we thought could crop up did.
Everything worked right out of the box.
It's so great.
NARRATOR: But they're not done yet.
The next step is a bit like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
FEINBERG: Our job will be to figure out which mirror goes with each spot.
For example, there's two mirror segments.
They may be tilted off like this, right?
So, light from the star comes down, and then one goes this way and the other goes that way, right?
NARRATOR: Over the next few weeks, they will move the mirrors to arrange the images of the star before bringing them into focus.
That one's pretty sharp.
Those other ones are going to take some more work to line up later, I think.
FEINBERG: Right now, we're getting 18 separate blurry images, but when we're done, we'll see one bright star, and that's when we're going to know that we have built the perfect telescope.
RIEKE: Then I'll be able to take the science images I'm here for.
(laughing) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: By mid-March, all 18 mirrors are working in harmony, and JWST produces its first fully aligned image.
♪ ♪ An image of a single star turns out to be far more.
FEINBERG: This is an engineering image that was really there just to say we focused it right, and there's a lot of galaxies.
(chuckling): You know?
You know, the engineers were, like, "What are all those galaxies doing there?"
(all laughing) We're realizing we're the first people that have ever seen these galaxies.
Since the first Hubble Deep Fields in the '90s, where Hubble just stared at an empty patch of the sky for, for days at a time and made this beautiful Deep Field... We just did that in about under an hour.
What that makes possible is that every field is a deep field now.
There are observations planned that are weeks long, instead of just an hour.
Everything about these images that I've seen so far tells us absolutely this thing is going to be fantastic.
FEINBERG: We don't know what we're going to see, but we know we haven't seen anything like this before.
This is going to be transformative.
This is looking amazing.
♪ ♪ FEINBERG: We built the right telescope, and that's really the key.
NARRATOR: Finally, the first official images are released.
And they are spectacular.
FEINBERG: You know, I guess my reaction was just a total sense of wonderment.
♪ ♪ ZURBUCHEN: It's like you have new glasses, right?
That you see through the fog.
NARRATOR: The Southern Ring Nebula, where JWST reveals a pair of stars orbiting each other, cocooned by layers of gas and dust thrown off by one of the stars as it slowly dies.
COLÓN: I almost have no words, you know?
(laughing): In that sense.
Because it's, it's a feat of engineering, right?
But it's also, "Wow, our universe is beautiful."
So, my favorite image is the Carina Nebula.
NARRATOR: While Hubble gave us a dramatic look at this stellar landscape, JWST is already revealing so much more.
MILAM: Star formation in general is something that's been such an enigma for us.
Now we can see these baby stars and planets being formed that we've never had access to before.
NARRATOR: Stephan's Quintet.
The telescope's array of instruments shows how four of these five galaxies swirl and pull at each other, their cosmic dance triggering the birth of new stars.
MENZEL: James Webb is seeing the distant parts of the universe in a wavelength that has never been seen before in this clarity.
NARRATOR: And Webb's first official Deep Field-- a patch of sky absolutely packed with galaxies, some whose light is stretched and magnified by gravity.
FEINBERG: There's actually a galaxy that's sort of twisted and bent, and it looks a lot like a Dalí painting, where there's this, you know, clock that's, like, melting.
And, you know in the case of the clock, it's time that's being warped.
But here, it's actually space that's being warped.
It's like life is imitating art and, you know, just this feeling of, of surrealness that this is the actual universe that we're looking at.
ESPINOZA: It sounds like living in a science fiction movie, but we are not living in that anymore.
This is science, this is real.
NARRATOR: All of these galaxies, some about 13 billion years old, appear in a spot of the sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm's length.
MILAM: It really makes you step back and think, "Oh, my goodness," you know, "that's just a speck of, of cosmic existence.
"And look at what we can see.
"We can see thousands of galaxies in a speck of sand.
So how infinite the universe must be."
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: These first images offer a tiny glimpse of what will come.
ZURBUCHEN: Think of it as like blowing open a door to a treasure chest, where we're just looking in, we're peering from the door.
STRAUGHN: The great thing is that really, this is just the beginning.
Today is just the beginning.
We'll be able to go much, much deeper.
And this telescope is going to do what we designed it to do.
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