Educator News

Hands-on Book of Hubble Images Allows the Visually Impaired To "Touch the Universe"
Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Mark Hess
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/286-8982)

Donna Weaver
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
(Phone: 410/338-4493)

Robin Pinnel
Joseph Henry Press/National Academy of Sciences, Washington
(Phone: 202/334-1902)

Roxanne L. Brown
DePaul University, Chicago
(Phone: 312/362-8623)


A new book of majestic images, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST), brings the wonders of our universe to the fingertips of the visually impaired.

The 64-page book, titled "Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy," presents color images of planets, nebulae, stars, and galaxies. Each image is embossed with lines, bumps, and other textures. The raised patterns translate colors, shapes, and other intricate details of the cosmic objects, allowing visually impaired people to feel what they cannot see. The book incorporates Braille and large-print descriptions, for each of the book's 14 photographs, so it is accessible to readers of most visual abilities.

"I think this book will help the blind community to better understand the variety of objects in space," explains the book's author, Noreen Grice, operations coordinator for the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science. "This book brings amazing celestial objects, seen with the Hubble Space Telescope, to the fingertips of the visually impaired, where they can better understand the universe and their place within it."

NASA, which helped fund the book, and the publisher, the Joseph Henry Press, trade imprint of the National Academies Press (publisher for the National Academy of Sciences), will publicly release "Touch the Universe" on Thursday, Nov. 21, at events at both the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, and at DePaul University in Chicago.

"For the last 12 years, Hubble discoveries have not only rewritten the science textbooks, the stunning images from HST have also become a part of American culture. But while these images have wowed the world, until now, there was still one group - the blind - who could not share in this marvel," said Ed Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science. "Now thanks to this extraordinary new book, Hubble images are literally in the hands of those who could not experience the beauty of the cosmos before," he said.

"Touch the Universe" takes the reader on a cosmic journey. It begins with an image of the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth, and then travels outward into the universe, showing objects such as Jupiter, the Ring Nebula, and the Hubble Deep Star Field North.

Grice collaborated with Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, an astronomer at DePaul University in Chicago, to develop the book with a $10,000 Hubble Space Telescope grant for educational outreach. In 1990, Grice published, "Touch the Stars," an astronomy book containing tactile line drawings of objects such as constellations, planets, and galaxies.

"I thought that Noreen's book, 'Touch the Stars,' was a wonderful idea, especially because astronomy is thought of as a visual science," Beck-Winchatz explains. "At the same time, when I saw the book and her sketches, I thought there was so and much more we could do. There are so many wonderful images that are used in classrooms around the world as a hook to get kids interested in science, and I wanted children with visual impairments to also benefit from these amazing pictures," he said.

The pair began working on the book after Beck-Winchatz received the Hubble grant. Grice wrote the text and translated the images; Beck-Winchatz served as science advisor. Working in her kitchen, Grice made prototypes of the Hubble images by tracing them on plastic sheets, using special tools to create raised details. Grice not only tried to represent the outlines of stars, planets, and galaxies, she also used consistent patterns to denote color and matter. Raised lines, for example, represent blue. Rings are illustrated with dotted lines, and wavy ones signify gas currents.

Students at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs evaluated each image for clarity and provided suggestions for improvement. Grice traced the final illustrations onto metal plates and placed them in a heat vacuum machine to create multiple copies of molded plastic pages. The pages became the first prototypes of her book.

"Touch the Universe" information is on the Internet at: