From the August 2015 issue

Web Extra: Watch how NuSTAR unfolded in space

NASA’s newest X-ray space telescope put mission managers through 24 minutes of terror as it unfolded 57 tinker-toy-like sections in orbit.
By | Published: August 24, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
As this artist’s concept shows, NuSTAR has a 30-foot (10 meters) mast that deployed after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). The spacecraft, which controls NuSTAR’s pointings, and the solar panels are with the focal plane.
Much was written about the “seven minutes of terror” just before NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory touched down on the Red Planet. But Fiona Harrison, principal investigator for the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), had to endure more than three times the agony.

Her X-ray space telescope went through an array of tests before it was launched into orbit from beneath Orbital Sciences’ Stargazer aircraft, but the team couldn’t try out NuSTAR’s delicate mast structure on Earth ahead of time. In order to focus high-energy X-rays, the 33-foot (10 meters) telescope was designed to unfurl in space and separate its mirrors from its detectors. And that meant 57 sections had to exit their holding cells and lock perfectly into place.

NuSTAR deployed flawlessly and is now studying black holes, supernovae, and other high-energy objects, but not before Harrison endured 24 minutes of terror.