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“The truth is that what ordinary people really care about are things they can see, with their own eyes,” writes Zimmerman, a science writer and historian.
The Hubble Space Telescope has let the public see the universe and has completely changed humanity’s perception of the cosmos. The Universe in a Mirror explores the lives of the men and women who dreamed of, lobbied for and engineered the first optical, Earth-orbiting telescope — the one that made the view of the heavens clear.
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Zimmerman begins the story with astronomers who were “condemned to look at the heavens as though they had bad vision and were forbidden from using glasses.” The consequences of these cataracts, the author contends, were profound: Dreamers like Lyman Spitzer, hard-nosed realists like Nancy Roman, brilliant engineers like Jean Olivier and tenacious astronauts like Story Musgrave united to find a way to shoot a mirror-equipped metal can into space so that everyone could marvel at the universe’s mysteries.
Zimmerman describes how the men and women who make Hubble fly risk their careers, families and lives to “build and fix what has undoubtedly been the most successful and important scientific instrument ever put into space.”
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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.
Princeton Univ. Press, 2008, 287 p., $29.95.