Book Reviews -- the Hubble Wars: Astrophysics Meets Astropolitics in the Two-Billion Dollar Struggle over the Hubble Space Telescope by Eric J. Chaisson

Article excerpt

Astrophysics Meets Astropolitics in the Two-Billion Dollar Struggle Over the hubble Space Telescope. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. $27.50.

For decades, the allocation of funds for scientific research has been the subject of debates at the highest levels of government, science, and technology; the debate between those favoring massive projects focused on narrow fronts and those preferring to support a spectrum of smaller, more varied, and flexible investigations. With big science at a crossroads--with the Hubble Space Telescope launched and serviced but still flawed, the Superconducting Supercollider canceled, and NASA's space station subject to increasing criticism--Eric Chaisson in The Hubble Wars gives an intensely personal description of the inner workings of the first of these three endeavors. The issues and events he describes are a timely sample of those our society must face now that the more expensive peace time science projects are probing the limits of popular and political support in the United States.

Certainly one of the most interesting issues Chaisson addresses is the vast difference between the funding and management of civilian science projects and of military/defense projects, in particular the contrast between the Hubble Space Telescope looking up and the highly classified Keyhole telescopes looking down. On the one hand, a small, tightly knit defense intelligence group was able to launch a series of twelve reconnaissance satellites, each of which may well be comparable to Hubble both in cost and capabilities, with little or no direct congressional oversight, scant notice in the press, and no noticeable public reaction even though one was destroyed during launch. On the other, a much larger and vastly more varied group was necessary for the Hubble mission to achieve its spectacular, although less than total, success--a mission subject to considerably more scrutiny and criticism in spite of the fact that Hubble cost roughly one-twelfth as much as the Keyhole series, approximately the same as the single reconnaissance satellite now resting in bits and pieces on the bottom of the Pacific. …