But things didn’t go according to plan at Northrop Grumman. It took a month instead of the expected two weeks to unfold the sunshield, Mr. Zurbuchen reported, and refolding it, which they had estimated would take a month, took two months.
“We have one shot to get this right,” he said. “Failure is not an option.”
Among astronomers, reaction to the setback ranged from philosophical to wary. “There are definitely going to be lessons to be learned from this,” said David Spergel, a Princeton professor and former chairman of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences, which helps NASA and Congress set priorities. “What were the red flags that NASA missed?” he asked.
Some worried that Wfirst, a highly rated mission to investigate dark energy and the expansion of the universe, could be in danger. “It’s possibly going to be the telescope that kills NASA astrophysics,” said Brian Keating, a cosmologist at the University of California, San Diego.
Tod Lauer, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, said, “From a technical point of view, this sounds pretty standard. There’s never been a mission that hasn’t faced a few issues during the final integration in test.”
He added, “You fix it up and get on with it.”