How to Pack a Telescope (for a Trip to Space)

A tangled Webb will unfurl itself outside of Earth.
More

In October of 2018, the James Webb telescope will launch into space, where it will travel beyond the moon to peer, as NASA puts it, into "the beginning of time." The Webb, all in all, is roughly the size of a tennis court. And it is, as space telescopes generally are, packed with tools and instruments that will allow it simultaneously to orbit the sun and to seek (NASA again) "the unobserved formation of the first galaxies."

But you can't very well launch a telescope with all its assorted gadgetry—mirrors, solar arrays, gyroscopes—into space as-is. Instead, you have to pack it all up, strategically. And then deploy its tools once the object has made its forceful departure from Earth. 

The video above, just released from by NASA's Webb Telescope team, illustrates the precise process that will take place, if all goes according to plan, when the Webb launches. You can think of the telescope as a kind of origami object, folded into an Ariane rocket like so many paper cranes. You can also think of it as a kind of butterfly, folded into a cocoon—and ready to spread its wings in space. 

The whole thing is both extremely nerdy and oddly poetic. Instead of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, it's an object turning into a tool—one that will unfurl and unfold and survey the sky.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In