From Publishers Weekly
Drawing upon firsthand experience and scores of interviews and internal documents, the Tuckers (The Cosmic Inquirers: Modern Telescopes and Their Makers), husband and wife, chronicle the pioneer days of X-ray astronomy and NASA's nearly 30-year undertaking: the building of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, deployed by the space shuttle Columbia in 1999. In this fast-paced, eminently readable technical history, Wallace Tucker, one of the team that analyzed the first satellite data on X rays, and Karen Tucker, science writer for Chandra, go behind the scenes with NASA decision-makers amid the vicissitudes of one of the largest astrophysics projects since the Hubble telescope. The authors shed light on the political subtext to the billion-dollar Chandra project, which, due to Hubble's long shadow, nearly didn't get off the ground. The chapters covering the early years of X-ray science and the trailblazing era of Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Max Planck epitomize good science writing, covering tremendous ground quickly and painlessly, and never taking the reader for granted. The authors show how the observatory will address some fundamental questions about the life cycles of stars, black holes and quasars, and about the development of galaxies. Newcomers will be surprised by how little was known about the heavens only 50 years ago, and about X rays and what causes them. Deft storytellers, the Tuckers convey the monumental accomplishment of our current generation of space scientists and never let highly technical subject matter overshadow their tale of promethean curiosity and scientific daring. Color and b&w illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
X "rays" are actually juiced-up photons of light, and to see them astrophysicists need a very bizarre telescope. Its mirror must consist of glass cylinders ground to a curvature that cannot deviate more than a few atom widths from true, or the instrument is useless. Incorporating factoids like that, the Tuckers commendably relate how the final instrument, put in use in 1999, was conceived, engineered, and financed. After describing the discussions within the X-ray community that convinced NASA to seed the project in the 1970s, they limn the vicissitudes of federal budgetary politics that nearly cancelled the project in the early 1990s with particular perception and then resume with the problems that arose during building, testing, and assembling. Fans of space technology ought to be fascinated by the Chandra telescope and excited by what it will reveal about neutron stars, black holes, quasars, and the fate of the universe. The Tuckers rev up such enthusiasm with this well-organized presentation. Gilbert Taylor
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