NASA's James Webb Space Telescope arrives in French Guiana ahead of Dec. 18 launch

After a 16-day journey by sea, a cargo ship carrying NASA's James Webb Space Telescope arrived at French Guiana on October 12, 2021. Webb will launch from Europe's Spaceport, Kourou (French Guiana) on Dec. 18.
NASA's next large space observatory is on its way to the end of their earthly journeys.

NASA officials announced that a cargo ship carrying the $10 million James Webb Space Telescope arrived in French Guiana Tuesday, Oct. 12, after completing a 16-day ocean voyage covering 5,800 miles (9.300 km).

The ship, also known as the MN Colibri was seen leaving Seal Beach, California's Orange County, on September 26th. On Oct. 5, it entered the Panama Canal, moving from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean Sea. The ship then traveled to French Guiana on South America's northeastern coast, where it was recognized as a French colony.

Related: Building The James Webb Space Telescope (photos).

Next, the precious cargo will be transported to Europe's Spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana), where it will be prepared for a Dec. 18 launch from an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.

Webb will take off after liftoff and head towards the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 in space. This is a spot that is gravitationally stable about 930,000 miles (1 million km) away from its home planet. The 13,670-lb. telescope will be able to observe the cosmos in infrared light once it reaches there. The telescope (6,200 kgs) will begin observing the cosmos with infrared light. This will allow scientists to study the first stars and galaxies in the universe and search for signs of life on nearby planets.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated today that the James Webb Space Telescope was a monumental achievement. It has been built to transform our understanding of the universe and provide amazing science.

Nelson stated that Webb would look back on 13 billion years to see the light that was created right after the Big Bang. This light will have the power to show mankind the farthest reaches and most distant reaches of space. Thanks to the expertise and skills of our amazing team, we are very close to unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos.

Webb's journey to the launch pad was a difficult and winding one. The ambitious telescope was developed in 1996. Launch was initially planned for 2007. However, delays and cost overruns have plagued the project over the years.

The assembly of the large observatory began at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt (Maryland) in 2013. The telescope was shipped to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for cryogenic testing. Webb returned to California in August 2017 for more extensive trials at prime contractor Northrop Grumman. The telescope was cleared for travel to French Guiana after the tests were completed.

Webb's arrival on the launch site was a significant occasion," Gregory Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., stated in the same statement.

He said, "We are excited to finally send deep space's next great observatory." Webb has traveled by sea and across the country. It will now travel 1 million miles by rocket from Earth to capture breathtaking images of the first galaxies of the early universe. These stunning images will transform our understanding about our place in the cosmos.

Editor's Note: In the original version of this story, it stated that MN Colibri had traveled 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) by sea to reach French Guiana. NASA initially provided this number, but it was later corrected. NASA has updated the story with the correct figure of 5,800 miles (9.300 km).