HANDPRINTS ON HUBBLE by Kathryn D. Sullivan


An Astronaut's Story of Invention
Email this review


A retired astronaut’s memoir of that most celebrated eye in the sky, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble has only improved with age, being inherently maintainable in design and open to innovation since its deployment in 1990. Though it was ridiculed when its initial photographs were unrefined, it has since been fixed and upgraded multiple times, with amazing results. Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, was on the shuttle involved in deploying the Hubble, and she spent years on the design and capabilities of the telescope. Her motives for writing this book were to bring to light the practical reality of tending to a telescope in orbit and to show what it took in terms of experimentation—tools, support equipment, operating procedures, etc. She also wanted to sing the praises of the engineers and astronauts who invented, produced, and tested all the maintenance features of the telescope. As a participant in and observer of the events, Sullivan had a prime seat to the thinking that goes into what makes something maintainable: “able to be sustained or restored to proper operating condition.” She clearly describes the taxing innovation and training involved, which included such rigors as reliability analysis, predictive maintenance modeling, and basic principles of human factors engineering in assessing every dimension of every component on the telescope. In the process, she delves into the history of the space shuttle, chronicling its many highs and the lowest of its lows, the Challenger tragedy of 1986. As a participant, it was Sullivan’s job to embark on a space walk to the telescope should anything go awry during its deployment, and she spent years in preparation for such an event. Throughout the narrative, her 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.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-262-04318-2
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: MIT
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2019