The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized our understanding of the universe. It has, among many other achievements, revealed thousands of galaxies in what seemed to be empty patches of sky; transformed our knowledge of black holes; found dwarf planets with moons orbiting other stars; and measured precisely how fast the universe is expanding. In Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut's Story of Invention, retired astronaut Kathryn Sullivan describes her work on the NASA team that made all of this possible.
Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, recounts how she and other astronauts, engineers, and scientists launched, rescued, repaired, and maintained Hubble, the most productive observatory ever built. Along the way, Sullivan chronicles her early life as a “Sputnik Baby,” her path to NASA through oceanography, and her initiation into the space program as one of “thirty-five new guys.” (She was also one of the first six women to join NASA's storied astronaut corps.)
She describes in vivid detail what liftoff feels like inside a spacecraft (it's like “being in an earthquake and a fighter jet at the same time”), shows us the view from a spacewalk, and recounts the temporary grounding of the shuttle program after the Challenger disaster. Sullivan explains that “maintainability” was designed into Hubble, and she describes the work of inventing the tools and processes that made on-orbit maintenance possible. Because in-flight repair and upgrade was part of the plan, NASA was able to fix a serious defect in Hubble's mirrors—leaving literal and metaphorical “handprints on Hubble.”
Available from the MIT Press
About the author
Kathryn D. Sullivan is a NASA astronaut (retired), former Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and an inductee in the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Praise for Handprints on Hubble
[A]n accessible and fascinating memoir of [Sullivan’s] experiences as a pioneering scientist, highlighted by her work on the Hubble space telescope… Sullivan’s fine volume shines a light on the nuts-and-bolts tasks that make extraordinary endeavors possible.
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
Throughout the narrative, [Sullivan’s] easy hand with details and infectious enthusiasm make for a winning combination. A smooth delivery of the nit and grit behind the success of the Hubble.
– Kirkus Reviews
Dr. Sullivan starts out headed for the bottom of the sea. Soon, she flies us 200 miles above the sky, using her head, heart, and hands to solve problem after problem – and help us take in views that are out of this world. She does it all with her veneer of astronaut cool, of course. What an adventure – no wonder she loves it.
– Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society
A wonderful tale of the most remarkable scientific instrument of our time, and the people who made it possible. This fascinating story of the Hubble Space Telescope’s visioning, development, and miraculous recovery, written by my longtime friend and two-time shuttle crewmate Dr. Kathy Sullivan, pays tribute to the unsung heroes of Hubble’s initial deployment and subsequent servicing.
– Charlie Bolden, NASA Astronaut Pilot STS-31; 12th NASA Administrator
So that’s how it all works! Kathy Sullivan’s insider knowledge and spacewalking savvy turn the nuts-and-bolts narrative of a giant piece of hardware into a daring space odyssey. From roaring rockets to tiny wrenches – as human ingenuity shaped NASA technology – it’s an intimate portrait of our magnificent Hubble eye-in-the-sky. I was, yes, riveted.
– Lynn Sherr, longtime space correspondent for ABC News; author, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space
Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation
The Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series is supported in part by Barbara Hiatt in honor of Father John Scott, mentor and former President of St. Martin’s University, who had a deep love of American History.