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The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It Paperback – March 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Scientists scoffed when astronomer Lyman Spitzer proposed launching a telescope into space in the 1940s. But in recounting how Spitzer’s outlandish idea became the reality of the Hubble Telescope, Zimmerman illuminates a triumph of human curiosity. Readers will marvel at the persistence of the early pioneers who recognized the merit of Spitzer’s proposal and championed it—at considerable personal cost—despite their colleagues’ skepticism. Also remarkable is the brilliance of the designers, who developed versatile new technology for scanning the cosmos from an orbiting platform. But nothing will impress readers more than the way scientists rebounded from bitter disappointment when the first transmissions from Hubble revealed a debilitating flaw in its mirror. By devising an ingenious repair procedure, skillfully executed by shuttle astronauts, these scientists miraculously rehabilitated the costly telescope. Media publication has already made readers familiar with some of the marvelous Hubble images of deep-space objects, but Zimmerman clarifies the scientific significance of these images, exposing the anatomy of exploding stars and mapping the distribution of extrasolar planets. The even larger impact of Hubble’s success emerges in a concluding survey of plans for a new generation of space-based observatories, all inspired by Hubble’s accomplishments. Must reading for armchair astrophysicists. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

One of Booklist's Editors' Choice for Best Adult Titles for 2008

Finalist for the 2008 Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, American Astronautical Society

"The Universe in a Mirror . . . [is] a breezy behind-the-scenes account by Robert Zimmerman, a freelance writer and space historian. . . . Mr. Zimmerman has brought the story up to the present, and it's a great story."--Dennis Overbye, New York Times

"Zimmerman vividly describes the building of the telescope, the turf wars among bureaucrats, scientists and congressional staffers, and the trials and tribulations of the Hubble itself once it was launched. . . . [A] page-turner full of human drama."--Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Wall Street Journal

"The Hubble project's struggle not to be strangled by bureaucracy was conveyed last year in a stirring history, and cautionary tale, by Robert Zimmerman--The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It. Worth a read."--Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

"A blow-by-blow account of how the Large Space Telescope, as it was originally called, got built--and a cracking good read it makes. . . . Zimmerman has written an engrossing account of a great story."--Michael Disney, American Scientist

"A fascinating inside look at how the great observatory came to be."--David Shiga, New Scientist

"Must reading for armchair astrophysicists."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)

"The Universe in a Mirror is an epic biography of the Hubble telescope. But perhaps more poignant is the book's subtle reminder of all that will be lost in just a few years when Hubble falls from its orbit around Earth--and disintegrates."--Ashley Yeager, Science News

"A just-in-time book that provides the reader key details regarding the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)--and why servicing the eye-on-the-universe is so important. . . . Zimmerman has written an excellent book that details the rocky and twisted road that led to the creation of the HST--not only a technological marvel--but an on-orbit instrument that had to overcome a gravity well of politics and bureaucracy."--Space Coalition.com

"Space historian Robert Zimmerman's crisp and balanced account of Hubble (based on many oral interviews as well as documents) reminds us not only of Hubble's battle with adversity, but also of the many scientists and engineers who shepherded the project through good times and bad."--Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History Magazine

"Zimmerman, a science writer and historian of space exploration, brings back to life those long-forgotten scientists and engineers who engaged in a decades-long campaign to bring Hubble to the launch pad."--Tod R. Lauer, Physics World

"Although there are a number of recent books that discuss some of the history and science behind the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), there are no other current works that cover the history behind the HST so extensively. In The Universe in a Mirror, science writer and historian Zimmerman drew from some of the same sources that Smith (The Space Telescope) used, but he dug deeper by using manuscripts, publications, and interviews that other writers did not access. . . . Zimmerman did an excellent job conveying the personalities and the struggles of the people involved. The text of the book flows well, and it is a pretty easy read. Anyone with a basic interest in science would enjoy."--J.R. Kraus, Choice

"Mirror is entrancing. It successfully communicates that astronomy isn't just a career but something that people do because they're driven by love, passion, and curiosity. . . . If you love the Hubble, this book is a must-read."--Pamela L. Gay, Sky & Telescope

"The Universe in a Mirror . . . offers a history of the epoch-making telescope, as well as fascinating descriptions of its most enthralling discoveries."--Bill Gladstone, Canadian Jewish News

"It is essentially a popular history, and as that, a very successful work. It is highly readable and enthusiastic without being rhapsodic, and is written from a point of view that reveals a longstanding intimacy with all things Hubble Space Telescope."--Nasser Zakariya, Endeavor

"Robert Zimmerman not only offers more details about the Hubble soap operas that many of know but also provides information about the telescope's conception, design, construction, and launch that most of us don't know."--Civil Engineering
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New afterword by the author edition (March 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691146357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691146355
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,652,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger K. Lee on July 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It
This book describes the Hubble Telescope Program and its predecessors in a most thorough and beautifully written exposition of NASA's efforts and problems in constructing the telescope. Unfortunately, in accordance with NASA's policies, it only contains the activities and decisions made by NASA management.

As I was Chief Engineer at Itek Optical Systems for the competing Large Space Telescope Program, the Hubble's predecessor, many technical problems were created by NASA's program management and convoluted approach to budget management, as explained by Mr. Zimmermann. The Large Space Telescope was a 3 meter aperture telescope very similar to the Hubble excepting for its much larger size. There were no 3 meter test facilities available in the country for full aperture high vacuum testing of the primary mirror. The projected cost of the 3 meter aperture LST far exceeded the amount that NASA thought was available. The NASA management opted for a null lens testing arrangement for the primary mirror construction which, as explained in Zimmermann's book, led to grinding and polishing the primary mirror to an incorrect prescription.

Furthermore, the aperture of the Hubble Telescope was reduced to 2 meters to take advantage of a classified test facility. A colleage of mine who had formerly worked for Perkin Elmer, the maker of the Hubble, told me of the testing failures that had occurred there, and his subsequent role explaining the problem to Congress in an investigation of the program.
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This book is excellent on the politics, including pictures of the players. And it has a decent section of Hubble color images. But it is curiously lacking on information about the completed instrument. Just a few more pages would have been extremely informative as a complement to the political wrangling. There is no photograph of the completed telescope, either on the ground or as deployed in space. Worse, there are no diagrams that show how it works. And after much discussion of the Vidicon versus CCD battles, we get no confirmation as to the final size of the CCD (was it 2000 x 2000 pixels in an array of four sensors?) and how the light gets from the mirror to the CCD. In an era where digital cameras embodying CCD technolgy are widespread, where many readers are conversant in talking about pixel dimensions of their home images, where many personal cameras have more than 2000 x 2000 pixels, this seems a strange omission. Apologists will say the information can be found elsewhere, but all it would have taken is a handful more pages (10?) to include it here and make the book less skewed to the politics. Even if Zimmerman, as a journalist, didn't see the need for this, I wonder why an editor didn't insist on it?
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Format: Hardcover
Quick: name a satellite. If you can think of one name, it is probably the Hubble, officially the Hubble Space Telescope, and the reason you might know of it by name when all those other communications and positioning satellites are up there (and also the International Space Station) is that images from Hubble are part of popular culture as well as scientific culture. Hubble has been an amazing success, but often just barely. It took a long time in coming, and might at any point in the planning stage have been shifted aside for other space goals. The complicated story of how Hubble got planned and launched and repaired is told with enthusiasm and detail in _The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It_ (Princeton University Press). Hubble is not just beloved by the public, it has been an extraordinary research tool, and deserves this fine biography, which tells a great deal not only about the gadget but about the boffins who made it all happen.

There are good reasons to have a telescope in space, mainly the avoidance of the distortion and filtering of the Earth's atmosphere. An orbiting telescope got a realistic proposal in 1946 with a paper for RAND by Lyman Spitzer, an astronomer who was ending up some sonar research after the war. Spitzer remembered thirty years later, "Most astronomers didn't take it seriously. They thought I was sort of ... wild-eyed or wide-eyed, one or the other." Zimmerman details the scientific and engineering planning and also the lobbying and horse-trading that had to go on to get the Hubble built and launched. It is a confusing tale, reflecting the peculiar mindset of the bureaucracy.
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Format: Hardcover
As this book effectively illustrates, the life of the Hubble Space Telescope, thus far, has been full of ups and downs. The author's extensive research has culminated in a very detailed story of this instrument - from its conception as an idea in the mid-twentieth century all the way to the present day. The author has covered just about everything on the history of this telescope: financial, bureaucratic, human, scientific and technical. One of the very few issues (maybe the only one) that hasn't been detailed is the selection of the appropriate orbit for the telescope. The writing style is clear, authoritative and accessible. It is also, in large part, quite engaging, although I found the lengthy renditions of the many budgetary wars a bit dry and less interesting than the personal stories as well as the technical/scientific matters which were often quite gripping. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, although astronomy buffs may relish it the most.
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