Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hubble. A Journey Through Space and Time by Edward Weiler. Published in Collaboration with NASA.

On the 20th Anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) launch, NASA personnel wrote Hubble. A Journey Through Space and Time. This oversized, Coffee Table Book contains over 150 color photos taken by the orbiting observatory, along with commentary and articles. The work begins with a brief introduction celebrating the telescope’s 20th Anniversary and presenting a retrospective of the project’s journey from inception to present. After a lesson on how HST works, comes the main event: chapters on different space phenomena encountered by the telescope, with photos and descriptions. Hubble ends with a unique section on the launch and maintenance of HST.

While Edward J. Weiler, former Chief Scientist of the HST project, gets the byline, the publisher makes it clear that this offering was a team effort of NASA employees. Some worked on the editing. Others contributed based on their specialty. This collaboration sets Hubble above similar photo logs of the observatory’s discoveries. Any publisher can present the photos. This folio gives the reader information from people who actually worked on project elements being described. The final chapter, on deploying and servicing the instrument, was predominantly written by astronauts who performed these functions. Also, because this publication’s discussions of the cosmos were written by NASA astronomers, it avoided inaccuracies that have plagued other volumes on HST.

There are some understandable blind spots in a book covering a venture, written by the very staff responsible for that venture, on its 20th Anniversary. Hubble is an advertisement for NASA. You will not find a perspective that is critical of the expense or decision-making of NASA. Neither will you find a reflection on whether space exploration has been worth the lives lost in the Challenger and Columbia missions. There is an assumption, shared by most of us, that the untapped information contained in the greatest unexplored frontier is too important. Despite the risks, mistakes and costs, we must explore space for the expansion of our understanding.

While Hubble’s scientific information is accurate and informative, let’s face it, you pick-up a compendium in this format to be awed by the photos. In this regard, the book does not disappoint. The multitude of high resolution color photos, most of them taking-up an entire page, some covering two pages, will leave you gaping in wonder over the beauty that is beyond our planet’s atmosphere. HST photos have become ubiquitous among our international communications. Anyone with an internet connection can call-up a multitude of images. But there is great personal joy and value in taking time away from the blinking, marketing screen, to sit in solitude with this meditation on the beauty and amazing nature that literally surrounds us.

Weiler, Edward J. Hubble. A Journey Through Space and Time. New York: Abrams Books, 2010.