NASA Is Shipping the James Webb Telescope Down the Panama Canal. But Why?

NASA's James Webb Telescope is undergoing preparations for shipment to the Kourou, French Guiana to ELA-3 launch site to finally launch on December 18, 2021.

What we did not share was how the telescope would make it to Kourou. Now a new report from Inverse is revealing that it has a long journey ahead from Long Beach, California to its final destination in Kourou, one that involves crossing the Panama canal.

Why take such a long journey you might be wondering? Wasn't it easier to just fly over the telescope?

Well, initial plans did involve flying the telescope into the Cayenne Airport, the closest airport to its assigned launch site near Kourou. But it turned out that rolling it to the launch site from the airport would prove an impossible task as the bridges along the route weren’t strong enough to support the cargo. 

So NASA decided to travel by water which means that the Webb telescope will be rolled onto a ship that will sail through the Panama Canal and navigate up the Kourou river. It will finally land at a location within an hour’s drive to the launch site. This is a far longer and more arduous journey than a plane ride but it seems the only way possible to get the telescope to where it needs to be.

In many waves, many future space exploration missions now rely on this journey. To ensure the telescope's safekeeping and proper maintenance, NASA will use what it calls the Observatory Space Telescope Transporter for Air, Road, and Sea. This is a unique environmentally controlled container that will keep the gold telescope safe throughout its long and tedious journey.

“It has everything the observatory needs to maintain its environmental safety,” Mark Voyton, NASA’s integrated science instrument module manager for the Webb Telescope, told Inverse. “Temperature controls, humidity controls; there's the ability to make sure that all of our instruments are purged with dry air to keep them dry.”

We wish the James Webb Telescope a great trip!

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