Last Christmas, NASA sent a giant telescope soaring into space. The US space agency placed it a million miles from earth—to orbit the sun with its 21-foot wide mirror, a sun-shield the size of a tennis court and a quarter of a million tiny shutters, each smaller than a grain of sand. Amid the carnage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rocketing inflation and a looming global recession, the James Webb Space Telescope sent back its first stunning images, unveiled on 12 July. The occasion was historic. For the first time, we saw a speck of the cosmos as it was 13.5 billion years ago, just ‘a bit later’ than our estimate of the Big Bang—about 3 million centuries prior. Thanks to tech advances and how long light takes to get here, we are now promised a peek into the very origins of the universe. What has lived so far in the realms of mathematics, physics, literature and philosophy will soon have a data grab to check with. The occasion was also laden with a spot of temporal symbolism: the images were presented at the White House in the presence of US President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and leaders of NASA and US science policy. This is no coincidence: science and tech innovations have long been led by governments, with public funding. The Webb project is expected to cost around $9.7 billion over its lifetime. As NASA partners, the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency chipped in with €700 million and Canadian $200 million respectively. Scientific exploration at the frontiers of what we know is never cheap.