On 12th April 1981 a revolutionary new spacecraft blasted off from Florida on her maiden flight. NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia was the most advanced flying machine ever built - the high watermark of post-war aviation development. A direct descendant of the record-breaking X-planes the likes of which Chuck Yeager had tested in the skies over the Mojave Desert, Columbia was a winged rocket plane, the size of an airliner, capable of flying to space and back before being made ready to fly again. She was the world's first real spaceship.
The Shuttle's Commander, moonwalker John Young, was already a veteran of five spaceflights. Alongside him, Pilot Bob Crippen was making his first, but Crip, taken in by the space agency after the cancellation of a top secret military space station programme in 1969, had worked on the Shuttle's development for a decade. Never before had a crew been so well prepared for their mission.
Yet less than an hour after Young and Crippen's spectacular departure from the Cape it was clear that all was not well. Tiles designed to protect Columbia from the blowtorch burn of re-entry were missing from the heatshield. If the damage to their ship was too great the astronauts would be unable to return safely to earth. But neither they nor mission control possessed any way of knowing.
Instead, NASA turned to the National Reconnaissance Office, a spy agency hidden deep inside the Pentagon whose very existence was classified.
Into the Black is a thrilling race against time; a gripping high stakes cold-war story, and a celebration of a beyond the state-of-the-art machine that, hailed as one of the seven new wonders of the world, rekindled our passion for spaceflight.
With a foreword by Astronaut Richard Truly.
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"Beautifully researched and written, Into the Black tells the true, complete story of the Space Shuttle better than it's ever been told before." (Colonel Chris Hadfield, former Astronaut and Space Station Commander)
"Brilliantly revealed, Into the Black is the finely tuned true story of the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Rowland White has magnificently laid bare the unknown dangers and unseen hazards of that first mission.... Once read, not forgotten." (Clive Cussler)
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A Terrific, Entertaining Listen
This is a really great audiobook. I've listened and read a ton of books and audiobooks on the space programme, though mainly the early years and Apollo. I was a little hesitant about this one as post-Apollo never seemed to excite me. But the narrative here was brilliant. It provided tons of detail and context that I've never heard before, and delivered it in a way that was highly entertaining. Given the length I was also cautious for a subject I did't think could sustain it - but I was wrong. Again, the narrative was excellent and captivating, and I was entirely absorbed in the story. And the narrator was also very good. I got a little concerned for a very brief moment early in the book when he changed his "voice" while quoting Curtis Lemay - but it was one very short instance (30 seconds), not repeated - so I'm glad I ignored it. I'd highly recommend this for anyone interested in the subject - or those who are stuck on Apollo.
- S. Perry