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This book was really very good. It's largely a biography of John Young and Bob Crippen, the first two space shuttle astronauts, and the team that was involved in getting the program off the ground. The book also covers Joe Engel, Richard Truly and other astronauts involved in the early shuttle missions.
I found the background on Crippen's tenure with the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a planned observation platform for military intelligence, absolutely fascinating. The program was canceled, but was quite ambitious. I knew almost nothing about this program, even though I grew up in the 1960s and am a bit of a space flight junkie.
The back story about getting USAF support for the shuttle program was also fascinating. The USAF had a love-hate relationship (perhaps a little more hate!) with the shuttle.
The author is an unabashed fan of the shuttle, although he covers the story warts and all. I'm not. Although it was certainly impressive to put something as big as the shuttle into space, it never got out of low earth orbit. Building it with solid fuel boosters was just a mistake--one we learn that gave John Young much trepidation.
Of course, the heat shield made of ceramic tiles was a problem for the spacecraft from the first flight to the last. I had forgotten that there were tiles knocked off on the first flight. The story about how NASA finallly got DOD photos of the underside of the shuttle while it was in that first flight was just amazing.
One thing that we tend to forget is just how primitive the computers were that were used in the space program in the early years. What NASA was able to accomplish with Apollo and then the shuttle was truly impressive.
Even if you have mixed feelings about the shuttle, this book is well worth reading.
Today, despite all the computers and hard won knowledge, we can't even put a man in space except by hitching a ride on a vintage Russian rocket. That's sad and a bit of a national disgrace.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This book is subtitled "The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts that Flew Her.” Being familiar with the many dramatic life and mission threatening issues of multiple Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights there's nothing particularly “extraordinary" in this telling of the STS-1 Columbia story.
That's not to say the story isn't interesting nor try to diminish the courage of the astronauts and the technical breakthroughs accomplished, it's just that the book is over billed. Sure, there are the biographies of the astronauts and details about the technology that you’d expect in such a story. The story is solidly researched and if you can get past the first 12 hours of biography and background it gets interesting in the last four hours when the actual mission begins and troubles, common on so many space missions, develop.
I could have done without the narrator’s cartoonish accents, his willowy impersonations of female speakers and his comical imitations of historical figures. At times his over dramatization sounds like he’s putting on a one man play. Better audio narrations are much more subtle than this one.
The book tells the story of the Columbia's first flight and even reveals some information not commonly known about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and spy satellite capabilities. But, being a mission I was fortunate to experience first hand, I would have liked to see a more riveting story.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful