Book Review: From Jars to the Stars – How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machine

October 17th, 2010

From Jars to the Stars – How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machine by Todd Neff; Earthviewmedia; Denver, Colorado; $24.95 (trade paperback); 2010.

Here’s a fascinating book that’s perfect for reading as NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft makes a breathtaking flyby of Comet Hartley 2 on November 4th.

The award-winning author has done a masterful job in telling the story that there’s more to space exploration than space and exploration – it’s the people! Neff has captured the dedication and creativity of engineers, designers and others – the collective enterprise of imagineers who make space exploration happen.

As the title, suggests, this book focuses on the creation and growth of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation. From Ball Brothers producing glass canning jars to an expansion into building spacecraft capable of carrying off miracle missions of discovery – well, the author has taken the lid off this aerospace adventure.

Ball Aerospace is based in Boulder, Colorado. That’s home for space engineers and software gurus responsible for such recent missions as the exo-planet scout, the Kepler spacecraft, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, as well as providing a wide-array of high-tech space gear.

A main focus of the book tells the “striking saga” of how Ball Aerospace rose to the challenge of building and flying NASA’s Deep Impact mission. That novel spacecraft smashed an impactor probe into comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005.

“A spacecraft is a flying robot,” Neff writes. “Deep Impact would have no arms or legs, no head, heart, or stomach, and no consciousness. Still, the spacecraft was physically (in metal and wires and silicon wafers) and conceptually (in software) subdivided into systems and subsystems that were to serve similar roles as organs or limbs.”

The reader will find a wealth of behind-the-scenes insight, never before told facts that took place in fabricating Deep Impact, the personalities and the hurdles – engineering and managerial – that had to be overcome to fulfill mission objectives.

On November 4, 2010, the Deep Impact spacecraft, repurposed for NASA’s EPOXI mission, will encounter comet Hartley 2, sending back images from just the fifth comet humanity has ever seen up close.

That upcoming celestial happening is a testament to the tenacity of a team of managers, designers, builders, testers and software specialists that reached out and touched a comet.

For more information on this book, go to:

By Leonard David

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