Launching “the most sophisticated space science telescope ever constructed” into space is a complex process, and testing is a huge part of it. The James Webb Space Telescope‘s intricate hardware and technical systems must endure both the vibrations of take-off and the extreme cold of space. JWST Program Director Eric Smith explains via

“Webb has many interconnected parts of different stiffnesses. All those parts – including the folded, stowed instruments and mirrors – have to survive launch at room temperature. These elements must then all come together seamlessly in extreme cold to form perfect optical images. All materials change shape as they cool. A flower blossom, a marshmallow, even some metals, will shatter or break if hyper-frozen and dropped onto a hard surface or bent.”

“All of Webb’s components, once assembled, must cool and move in precisely the right way so that the ultra-fine optical tolerances are met when everything is cold. Think of being able to repeatedly parallel park your car and know the position of your back bumper to within a 10th of a diameter of a human hair. That’s how accurate we must be in knowing the position of our mirror surfaces.”

JWST is scheduled to launch in October 2018 after further assembly, as well as critical cryogenic, vibration, and acoustic testing rounds. Read more about this telescope at Wikipedia and NASA.

Follow this with the 1995 Hubble photo that changed astronomy, The Beauty of Space Photography, and Why Do We Put Telescopes in Space?

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