Title: The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It
Author: Robert Zimmerman
Fun Fact: When Lyman Spitzer proposed the US build a telescope 200-600 inches diameter and launch it into space, the largest ground telescope was only 200 inches and still under construction!
Review Summary: I liked the author’s writing style and his passion for the subject, but it was sometimes difficult to keep track of the sequence of events and the people involved.
The building of the Hubble telescope was a long and complicated process, lasting 44 years from the first serious proposal of such a telescope to Hubble’s launch in 1990. The fight for Hubble didn’t end there either, as regular maintenance missions were necessary to keep the telescope operational. The Universe in a Mirror describes the many people who devoted their lives to the project, as well as a sampling of the neat discoveries the Hubble enabled.
By the time I was finished reading the preface, I knew I liked the author’s writing style. Somehow, despite being clear and concise, the author’s enthusiasm for the project and respect for the people who made it happen was evident in everything he wrote. I was also impressed by how gripping he made events that were often nothing more than bureaucratic squabbles. The book did start a little slow, but by the time the scientists were fighting budget cuts that could doom Hubble I was drawn in enough that I really cared how things worked out.
Unlike American Chestnut, another book about a big government project, this book didn’t describe people in such a way that I felt I got to know many of them very well. There were several reasons for that. First, the book described too many people for me to become attached to many of them. Second, the number of people meant that we didn’t spend long on any one of them. And finally, the dates when quotes were spoken was often given, which caused me to be confused about where in the timeline we were – had we jumped forward in time or was that just when the quote came from? The lack of a clear sequence of events also made it hard to follow how all of the people connected to one another.
Although I had a hard time “getting to know” all of the people described, I think the inclusion of as many people as possible was part of the author’s intent. Unfortunately, many of the people who sacrificed their personal lives to make the Hubble happen never received the recognition they deserved. While after reading this, I may never want to work on a large government project, I’m glad that many of the people who made that commitment are being recognized in some small way by their inclusion in this book.