The Universe In a Mirror (Zimmerman)

The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It

As I was scanning this morning’s New York Times, I saw an obituary for Art Code. I’d never heard of him, but he was an instrumental player in the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope. That was only one of the many things I learned from reading Zimmerman’s excellent book on the genesis, development, deployment, and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Zimmerman has written a fascinating account of the early genesis of the whole idea of space-based telescopes; much of this early work was done by Lyman Spitzer, another scientist you probably haven’t heard of but who (IMHO) deserves wider recognition (and who was born in Toledo!)

Zimmerman clearly and engagingly chronicles the process by which we got the Hubble, including the (almost-incredible) bungles made by Perkin-Elmer in finishing the primary mirror, the drawn-out process of figuring out what the actual problem was, and the ingenious engineering solution (COSTAR) that fixed it. If anything, he provides too much detail of some of the bureaucratic wrangling. It’s easy to get lost in his description of the wrangling that took place between various factions at different NASA centers and the Space Telescope Science Institute. However, he does a splendid job of articulating how revolutionary the HST was as a scientific instrument, and how much knowledge astronomers in different specialties were able to learn from it.

If you have even a passing interest in Big Science, this is a great read; likewise if you’re an astronomy buff. Highly recommended.

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