Stunning views of the James Webb telescope before it’s blasted into space

One of the most momentous rocket launches in history looms large.

The colossal James Webb Space Telescope — intended to peer into the deepest realms of the universe — is now perched atop a rocket in French Guiana. As of Dec. 17, NASA expects to launch the prized instrument, commonly dubbed JWST, on Dec. 24.

“We’re going to see the very first stars and galaxies that ever formed,” Jean Creighton, an astronomer and the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, told Mashable in October.

JWST will orbit the sun a million miles from Earth. Both the public and scientists alike are getting their final views of the dazzling telescope (it’s built with gold-plated mirrors) before a reliable Ariane 5 rocket blasts JWST well beyond our planet. The photos below show the telescope in various stages of testing, folding, and final preparation.

A successful launch, however, would just be the start of JWST’s ambitious odyssey to view the deepest cosmos. The telescope, now tightly packed on a rocket, must unfurl in space. That’s no simple task. After leaving Earth, JWST will “begin the most complex sequence of deployments ever attempted in a single space mission,” explained NASA. For example, 107 pins must release for the telescope’s great sunshield, which is the length of a tennis court, to properly unfold.

If all goes well, JWST will:

  • Peer some 13.7 billion years into the past, glimpsing the first planets and galaxies

  • See stars and galaxies currently hidden beyond thick clouds of cosmic dust

  • View wild exoplanets in far-off solar systems


a technician looking at the James Webb Space Telescope

A technician elevated above the James Webb Space Telescope during testing reveals the instrument’s enormous size. Credit: NASA / Chris Gunn

technicians attaching the James Webb Space Telescope to a rocket

On Dec. 11, technicians clad in special suits attached the James Webb Space Telescope to an Ariane 5 rocket. Credit: ESA / M. Pedoussaut

technicians test and inspect the James Webb Space Telescope

Northrop Grumman technicans run tests on the James Webb Space Telescope in July 2021. Credit: Northrop Grumman

the mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope are tested in a cryogenic room

NASA tests the James Webb Space Telescope’s mirrors in a cryogenic room. Credit: NASA / MSFC / David Higginbotham

the James Webb Space Telescope being lowered onto a rocket

On Dec. 11, the Jame Webb Space Telescope is lowered onto an Ariane 5 rocket in an assembly building. Credit: ESA / M.Pedoussaut

the James Webb Space Telescope is secured atop a rocket

The James Webb Space Telescope is secured atop an Ariane 5 rocket. Credit: ESA / M.Pedoussaut

the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry the James Webb Space Telescope into space

Part of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry the James Webb Space Telescope into space. Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace

the gold plated mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope

The brilliant, hexagonal, gold-plated mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA / Desiree Stover