From Jars to the Stars: How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machineby Todd Neff
In “From Jars to the Stars: How
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How did a company best known for its glass jars hit a comet 83 million miles away? The answer involves technical expertise, heroic dedication, an industrial giant’s push to modernize, Hitler’s V-2 rocket, speakers destined for a Hall & Oates summer concert tour, and the search for life’s origins.
In “From Jars to the Stars: How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machine,” award-winning science journalist Todd Neff presents an inside look at the backgrounds and motivations of the men and women who actually create the spacecraft on which the American space program rides.
A timeless story of science, engineering, politics and business strategy intertwining to bring success in the brutal business of space, “From Jars to the Stars” is a lively account of one of mankind’s great modern achievements. It is a story about people, foremost those on the Deep Impact mission, which smashed a spacecraft into the comet Tempel 1.
“From Jars to the Stars” explores the improbable beginnings of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., which built the comet hunter, and the evolution of the American space agency that funded it. The book begins with the story of a group of University of Colorado students who built a “sun seeker” for the noses of sounding rockets studying the home star. The pathbreaking device sparked the creation and development of both Ball Aerospace and the University of Colorado’s formidable Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
“From Jars to the Stars” describes how Ed Ball, president of the Ball Brothers Company of Muncie, Indiana, ended up owning a space business in Boulder, Colorado, through a combination of strategic intent and serendipity. Neff explores the personalities and the technologies behind Ball’s pioneering spacecraft, the Orbiting Solar Observatory launched in 1962. The Ball orbiter prepares the ground for Deep Impact, showing readers how much—and how little—changed across four decades of American space exploration.
Neff goes on to show how Ball Aerospace evolved into an organization capable of building seven Hubble Space Telescope instruments as well as the comet hunter at the center of the story. The author describes the development of the American space enterprise as it went from emphasizing big-budget “gigabuck” missions to “faster, better, cheaper” spacecraft of the sort Ball specialized in. Neff pays special mind to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the world leader in interplanetary space exploration and Ball’s partner on Deep Impact. It was often a rocky marriage.
Throughout, Neff makes clear that robotic space missions are indeed manned: the people just happen to stay on the ground.
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Meet the Author
Todd Neff is a writer based in Denver, Colorado, having formerly covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado. It is the only general-interest newspaper known to be named after a photographic implement.
His first book, "From Jars to the Stars," is about how Ball Aerospace -- an organization evolved from the Ball Brothers Company of Muncie, Indiana and a group of students in a University of Colorado basement -- managed to blast a sizable crater in the comet 9P/Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005.
Neff graduated with a business degree from the University of Michigan, where he played soccer, and a with master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Before becoming a journalist at the turn of the millennium, he was an IT and strategy consultant and became familiar with the challenges large technical projects can present.
He began his journalistic career as a technology writer for business-focused weeklies in Boston and Denver and has since written for many regional and national publications. Neff is on the advisory board of the University of Colorado's Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, and he speaks German and Japanese, though rarely during advisory-board meetings.
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From Jars to the Stars depicts the beginnings of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. The book begins with the story of a group of University of Colorado students who design and develop a “sun seeker” for rockets studying the sun. Ed Ball, president of the Ball Brothers Company, created his own space business in Boulder CO, with the students at the forefront of advancing space technology and development. Neff also elaborates on the technologies behind Ball’s pioneering spacecraft, the Orbiting Solar Observatory, and uses the pioneering technology to foil Ball’s latest project: Deep Impact. Written by award-winning science journalist Todd Neff, this book is an account of the creation of Ball Aerospace, and it’s most recent success: the Deep Impact comet landing. Throughout the book, Neff creates visual images that remain technical, yet is understandable. The characters are not described, but developed upon like a fictional story. The lives are displayed and there is dialogue between other characters, unlike other books where the entirety is told from an uninformed third person. Neff describes intricate moments and makes the story feel more like a story than a depiction of history. Ultimately, the writing style flows nicely from thought to thought, from scene to scene, and makes for an enjoyable read. This is a key aspect of style, because even a book about the most intriguing things can be hard to like, if it is hard to read. For anyone who likes science or space, this book is perfect. The technical detail,and the amazing amount of science and engineering is described in enough detail to keep the plot moving. Even the savvy business acumen from Ed Ball is a welcome addition. In all, the book is rolled up into an interesting and surprisingly readable book. From an R&D idea to a multibillion dollar company, the story shows the evolution of technology, engineering, and the trials and tribulations necessary to keep the company alive.