Hubble: Toil and Trouble

ScreenHunter_12 Jan. 17 11.53

Michael J. Disney reviews The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It by Robert Zimmerman, in American Scientist:

Consider but a tiny selection of all the exciting observations Hubble has made or helped to make. We now know that stars are commonly born surrounded by rings of dust and gas out of which planets can form, that most galaxies have super-massive black holes in their cores, that quasars are colliding galaxies that feed one another’s black holes, that neighboring galaxies have puzzlingly diverse histories, and that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. What more could we have hoped for from this marvellous machine, whose life in space now hangs by a thread and must certainly come to an end by 2015?

Zimmerman’s book is 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. Like most massive projects built in a democracy, Hubble has a messy story. As visionaries, astronomers, managers, engineers, politicians and budgets clashed, there was rarely certainty as to the outcome. If the rationale for the telescope hadn’t been so compelling, it would surely have been cancelled (it was scaled back) somewhere along its rocky road.

More here.