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The Universe in a Mirror

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

Robert Zimmerman
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Universe in a Mirror
    Book Description:

    The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. It has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running.The Universe in a Mirrortells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments.

    Robert Zimmerman takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most ambitious scientific instruments ever sent into space. After World War II, astronomer Lyman Spitzer and a handful of scientists waged a fifty-year struggle to build the first space telescope capable of seeing beyond Earth's atmospheric veil. Zimmerman shows how many of the telescope's advocates sacrificed careers and family to get it launched, and how others devoted their lives to Hubble only to have their hopes and reputations shattered when its mirror was found to be flawed. This is the story of an idea that would not die--and of the dauntless human spirit. Illustrated with striking color images,The Universe in a Mirrordescribes the heated battles between scientists and bureaucrats, the perseverance of astronauts to repair and maintain the telescope, and much more. Hubble, and the men and women behind it, opened a rare window onto the universe, dazzling humanity with sights never before seen.

    This book tells their remarkable story. A new afterword updates the reader on the May 2009 Hubble service mission and looks to the future of astronomy, including the prospect of a new space telescope to replace Hubble.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3476-1
    Subjects: Physics, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Robert Zimmerman
  5. 1 Foggy Vision
    (pp. 1-19)

    The sky was dark, the air clear. It was an excellent night for astronomical photography.

    On March 7, 1945, Enrique Gaviola of the Cordoba Observatory of Cordoba, Argentina, carefully positioned the observatory’s 61-inch telescope for an evening of research. Painstakingly, methodically, Gaviola aimed the telescope at one of the more spectacular spots in the southern sky, the Keyhole Nebula in the constellation Carina.

    First observed by John Herschel in the mid-1830s while in South Africa doing a survey of the southern sky, it had been given its name by Herschel because of its distinctive keyhole-shaped dark patch. What made this...

  6. 2 Slow Start
    (pp. 20-46)

    Geoffrey Burbidge was puzzled. It was 1961 and for the last four years, he and his wife Margaret had been astronomers at the Yerkes Observatory. During the winter months Yerkes was a very isolated place, located as it was 80 miles north of Chicago, Illinois, just north the border into wintry Wisconsin near the small town of Williams Bay.

    The one thing that Yerkes was blessed with, however, was a great library. During the cold fall and winter months of 1961 Burbidge spent a lot of time browsing through old and new journals, not just to learn what had been...

  7. 3 Getting Money
    (pp. 47-76)

    The climber was tall, thin, and wiry. He moved smoothly, carefully, and methodically, working his way up the wall without pause. Two hundred and fifty feet below him stretched the green and shimmering meadows of the Yosemite Valley.

    On a ledge beneath him, forty-three-year-old astronomer Ralph Bohlin fed out the safety line, watching intently to make sure he was ready to catch the man should he fall. Bohlin was especially concerned because the climber was not merely another human being, he was sixty-six-year-old Lyman Spitzer, director of Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences, one of the country’s most eminent scientists...

  8. 4 Building It
    (pp. 77-117)

    In the spring of 1981, astronomer Kris Davidson took a two-month sabbatical from teaching at the University of Minnesota to travel to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the southern hemisphere. Located on top of the 7,200-foot-high Cerro Tololo peak in the high Andes mountains about 300 miles north of Santiago, Chile, this astronomical observatory was then one of the best places to go if an astronomer wanted to take a close look at some of the more unusual objects in the southern sky.

    For Davidson, one of the more interesting of these unusual objects was the star Eta Carinae....

  9. 5 Saving It
    (pp. 118-156)

    It was one of those priceless rare moments that everyone in the world of science dreams of. After decades of work and centuries of waiting, the first image from an optical telescope above the atmosphere was about to appear on a computer screen.

    Chris Burrows leaned over the shoulder of the console operator at the Space Telescope Science Institute’s control room to get a close look. Originally a high-energy physicist, Burrows had come to the institute in 1984 after working in Europe in industry as well as on the European Space Agency’s Hipparcos astronomy probe. His father had been a...

  10. 6 “New Phenomena Not Yet Imagined”
    (pp. 157-181)

    Four days after the shuttle returned to Earth, it was once again time to open Hubble’s shutter. This time, unlike “first light” in 1990, no one from the press was invited to Goddard to witness it. In fact, this time there was no fake public relations event at Goddard at all. Instead, everyone who could get permission or was important enough not to need it was packed into the same control room at the Space Telescope Science Institute where Chris Burrows and Roger Lynds and a small handful of people had been three years earlier. And rather than a host...

    (pp. None)
  12. 7 Abandonment
    (pp. 182-208)

    Thanksgiving weekend, 2003. The time had come for NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe to make a decision. As happened every year since the space agency’s inception, after months of meetings and negotiations the annual budget cycle was drawing to a close. In only a few weeks he would have to finalize the 2005 NASA budget for presentation to Congress, which required him now to make some decisions on where to spend that money.

    This particular budget cycle, however, had been especially difficult. Since the loss ofColumbiaten months earlier, the space agency had been faced with an avalanche of criticism....

  13. 8 The Lure of the Unknown
    (pp. 209-234)

    Ten months before he announced his decision to service Hubble, Mike Griffin appeared before an assembly of more than two thousand astronomers at the January 2006 meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Once again, as it had done in 1993 when Hubble was repaired, the AAS was meeting in Washington, DC, and the new NASA administrator was there to give the astronomical community his perspective on NASA’s future and its continuing participation in astronomy.

    At the time many astronomers were very nervous about their future funding. To some, Bush’s new space vision and the resulting shift in focus at...

    (pp. 235-242)

    Like any book about the events of its time,The Universe in a Mirrorwas quickly overtaken by history since its publication in hardcover in 2008.

    First, the long-delayed shuttle servicing did not occur in October 2008 as scheduled. Instead, it was scrubbed only two weeks before launch, when Hubble’s Science Instrument Control and Data Handling Unit failed. It is this unit that transmits almost all of the telescope’s scientific data, including images, to the ground. Without it Hubble was useless.

    Fortunately, the unit had been designed with redundancy, a primary A side and a backup B side. Engineers at...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 243-260)
    (pp. 261-278)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 279-295)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)