NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope finishes deploying its sunshield amid cheers

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope passed a major milestone when it successfully finished deploying its enormous sunshield — a critical feature that will allow the floating space observatory to peer into the most distant reaches of the universe.

Team members in the Mission Operations Control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore clapped and cheered behind face masks as they finished adjusting the final layer of the tennis-court-sized sunshield shortly before noon on Tuesday.

The most powerful space telescope ever built has officially left Earth. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope blasted off on Dec. 25 at 7:20 a.m. Eastern from a European spaceport in French Guiana, unleashing a rumble that could be felt in the control center.

“Go Webb!” range operations manager Jean-Luc Voyer called out after the spacecraft completed a crucial maneuver soon after liftoff. Cheers erupted in the control room. Mission members in face masks donned bright red Santa hats in celebration of the successful Christmas Day launch.

The roughly $10 billion observatory, which is bigger and more sophisticated than the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, has been in the works since the late 1980s. What it finds could revolutionize our understanding of the universe and our place in it.

“The JWST team kicks butt,” Webb project manager Bill Ochs said as the team celebrated.

Christmas Eve telescope launch has astronomers hoping for good tidings of great joy

The $10 billion observatory, launched from a European spaceport in French Guiana on Christmas Day, is the most powerful telescope ever sent into space. It boasts a 21-foot mirror with roughly six times the light-gathering area of the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s so big that it had to be folded up like origami in order to fit into the Ariane 5 rocket that carried it away from Earth.

The telescope has been carefully unfolding in zero gravity since then. It’s a multi-step process, but unfurling and setting up the sunshield was considered the most complex pa