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In 1990 and 1992, a NASA-led team of scientists from the COBE project changed the way we view the universe. They showed that the microwave radiation that fills the universe must have come from the Big Bang itself—effectively proving this theory beyond any doubt. It was one of the greatest scientific findings of our generation, perhaps of all time.In this no-holds-barred account, COBE's originator and Project Scientist, John Mather, and science writer John Boslough provide the intimate and startling details of how big science is done today. They tell of the discovery of the cosmic background radiation and of the fifteen-year struggle to design, build and launch the COBE satellite, including the unwelcome controversy when one team member breached the project's publication policy and stepped into the limelight alone. The Very First Light presents a rarely seen inside account of the world of big science, where cooperation and competition battle for supremacy. At the height of the project, more than 1,500 scientists, engineers, designers, and support staff worked on the spacecraft. The project was especially difficult because two of the three instruments were cooled to within a few degrees of absolute zero.When the Challenger exploded in 1986, the shuttle program was grounded indefinately, leaving the COBE with no route to space. The last available Delta rocket was approved for the mission, but now the team had to slash the spacecraft's five-ton weight in half. The story of this feat provides a remarkable behind-the-scenes look into the high-stakes, frenetic world of a big science project and NASA itself. The Very First Light is a portrait of science no serious reader will want to miss.
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John C. Mather, Ph.D., is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He won the Nobel Prize in 2006. He is a member of the Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Committee and of the Standing Review Board for the Kepler project. He lives in Maryland.
John Boslough received honors in the history of science from Princeton University and has written widely on science for National Geographic and other publications. His previous books include Stephen Hawking’s Universe and Masters of Time, co-authored by Wendy W. Cortesi. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.From Kirkus Reviews:
The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was one of the most successful scientific packages ever launched by NASA; here, the chief project scientist tells its story. COBE was designed to make three delicate measurements of the microwave energy that cosmologists believe to be the last remnant of the Big Bang. Mather and Boslough (a freelance journalist) begin with a quick look at the launching of the satellite, then flash back to cover the scientific background. The Big Bang theory arose from the discovery, early in this century, that distant galaxies are moving away from Earth at high speeds. By the 1940s, scientists had concluded that the universe must have originated in a gigantic explosion, the Big Bang. The greatly cooled energy of that explosion--the cosmic background--was detected in 1964. But the microwave frequencies of the energy were difficult to measure precisely from the surface of the Earth. When NASA put out a call for experiments to be conducted on future satellite launches, the cosmic background measurement was an obvious candidate; NASA eventually combined three proposals into a single project, the COBE. Some 1,600 scientists and technicians would eventually be involved in the project. The design team faced great challenges: Instruments had to be fitted into a severely restricted space, and, while the instrumentation had to be sufficiently precise to do the job, it also had to be tough enough to withstand the rigors of a space shuttle launch. Meanwhile, the team had to keep the project moving forward despite budget cuts, changes in NASA administrators, and rivalry among engineers, scientists, and bureaucrats. In the end, the experiments were spectacularly successful; the instruments sent back data that confirmed the Big Bang theory. Mather concludes by considering the larger cosmological questions yet to be answered, and reflecting on the place of human beings in the cosmos. A useful look behind the scenes of modern science, as told by one of the key players. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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