Book Review: The Universe in a Mirror

To successfully foretell the future, you need more than a crystal ball. You need to start with a good understanding of where we stand today. Then, perhaps, you can envision where to go and how best to get there. Such was the choice and action of a number of individuals who appear in Robert Zimmerman’s book ‘The Universe in a Mirror‘. As aptly put in the sub-title, it’s about ‘The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It’.

So when did we first contemplate telescopes above the clouds? As we read, Hermann Oberth set forth the idea in 1923. But, it was Lyman Spitzer’s technical paper of 1946 that put substance to the idea. And, this was long before orbital flight! Zimmerman’s book then follows Spitzer’s trail as he launched balloon flights funded by the Office of Naval Research, Nancy Roman’s path as she helped setup Orbiting Astronomical Observatories and Leo Goldberg’s steps in chairing the Astronomy Missions Board. These and many other people, together with tens of committees and boards, are seen to come and go as Hubble takes shape, gets built, endures repairs and prepares for its denouement.

With a Hubble maintenance mission on NASA’s list, this book is topical. To emphasize the telescope’s value, Zimmerman shows the fantastic amount of effort made by a large number of people just to get Hubble into space. Given this, he notes the incredible drawing power of its results, such as the optical images like Eta Carinae. People, astronomers or not, love the pictures. In effect, each wonderful scene alleviated the payment of tax dollars. Thus, without a replacement or a strong contingent of supporters, we loose a great draw for this field of science. Thus, whether as a review of the people and processes who put the Hubble into orbit or as an opinion of what to do with the future, Zimmerman has written a very attractive book.

Visionaries keep making key contributions to the future of humankind. Certainly the Hubble Space Telescope was and remains dependent upon such farseeing individuals. We can only wonder of and hope that other individuals continue coming to the forefront as so well described in Robert Zimmerman’s book “The Universe in a Mirror.

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