With the James Webb Space Telescope reaching its final orbit in space, people are starting to express their belief, and even disbelief, that everything has worked so far. 

No one will be more surprised than NASA. When this project began as a successor to Hubble, the joint confidence level was only 50%. They got funding from Congress in 1996 claiming they could do it but to impartial experts it was a coin flip.

That is why NASA engineers who had once been quiet, if not carrying the flag for the thing, are going to be amazed if it works. Some are only now going on record that they had real doubt. Many journalists are privately amazed too. I will be amazed if, come June, it does as hoped. It has a lot of moving parts and the NASA that built it is not the NASA of the 1960s, mission-driven, it is a government job works program that has a checklist of political and cultural issues it must obey to do anything at all. Cute robots on Mars, yes, sure, those have been great, but this is Big Science and government has long forgotten how to let go and allow the private sector to make them look smart for funding it.

Obviously lots of engineers and scientists believed it will work all along, but like those Greenpeace people you see on the street who want to talk to you about banning something or another, you know they believe in it because it is their higher cause. An article of faith. Not because they have thought it through.

People who have thought things through, like The U.S Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) have instead had NASA on its High Risk list since 1990, due to persistent cost inflation and missed schedules by  its programs. Long before investment banks were "too big to fail" NASA was lobbying for funds to build giant projects using technology that did not exist and hoping that if enough was invested they could wait for the private sector to save them. In this case, it was 19 years of missed schedules and cost inflation. 1000% cost inflation.

Here's the rub. After 25 years of money and talking about it, the successor to Hubble is probably only going to last 10 years. It may be longer, thanks to a non-NASA rocket doing about as well as it could it saved some fuel, but the short time it has may mark the last NASA Big Science program for the foreseeable future. And there is still a lot that can go wrong. Hubble didn't work properly for three years after launch but it was in close orbit and reachable by a space shuttle so it could be fixed. No human has ever been where JWST is, and if government remains in charge of space, we may never get there.

I don't want any of that, I want it to be flawless. To the public it is pretty esoteric - seeing a few hundred million more years closer to the Big Bang is really "inside baseball" - but to the science community it is exciting. But I hate big disappointment so while others cheer every milestone, I remain cautiously hopeful.