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Comm Check...: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia Hardcover – Jan 27 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (Jan. 27 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743260910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743260916
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,246,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Plunging back to Earth after a 16-day science mission, the shuttle Columbia streaked through orbital darkness at 5 miles per second, fast enough to fly from Chicago to New York in two and a half minutes and to circle the entire planet in an hour and a half. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Gosier on July 9 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have no reservations in recommending this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Columbia disaster. This book isn't "technical," in the sense of giving lots of equations etc. Rather it gives a thorough non-technical, managerial, and cultural description of events.
All of this book's sections are well written, and fit into a cohesive whole. There's the required section describing how things unfolded on that awful morning. The authors also describe the doomed members of Columbia's crew, and the unusually long period of training and delays they had to go through to get to space in the first place. This gives a glimpse into the space station and shuttle politics within NASA, and also gives a real human touch to the tragedy. Esp. with details such as Rick Husband's decision to make Kalpana Chawla the flight engineer, helping her to redeem her career as an astronaut after an earlier mistake.
There's background from previous flights to set the stage, esp. the near-catastrophic foam strike on Atlantis, 2 flights before Columbia. This section shows NASA's inadequate response on a past flight, which then leads into the description of the debris assessment team's work during Columbia's mission. I found this section particularly enlightening, and I could relate very much to it, working in a large organization myself. All too understandable, and thus even more frustrating.
The work of the CAIB is described more in broad-brush strokes, since it took place over a much longer period. But its points are well taken. NASA's organization repeated the mistakes of Challenger, despite some very good work on some other safety concerns with the shuttle. The author's give a blow-by-blow account of how Columbia came apart in this section, which is gripping reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on June 19 2004
Format: Hardcover
A great first telling of the Columbia disaster. The authors interviewed a score of persons involved at some point with the shuttle program, and seemingly spared no one's feelings, regardless of the access they were given. We share the sinking dread of the junior engineers as they watch the foam strike, and are then denied photos of the orbiter by senior management from military surveillance vehicles. And then comes the awful moment, to observers across the country, in Houston, and at NASA, when disaster strikes...
The final report of the investigative board saw little hope for NASA to effectively manage the shuttle program at the levels of quality control that the program required. So the macro problem was not a case of sub-par people doing sub-par work, but of normal people doing normal work. For the most complex machine ever invented, normal wasn't good enough. Bureaucratic inertia would build up over time, trumping any system of feedback and cross-checks. People in any organization eventually come to see what they expect to see, swamping the efforts of those individuals who strive to "pound a problem flat."
Ultimately of course, if everyone is to blame then no one is to blame. Every snowflake in an avalanche can plead "not guilty". That, plus the creeping obsolescence of the shuttle design and components led the investigative board to recommend replacing the shuttle altogether. Does this mean the end of manned space flight from America? I personally hope so. We've learned so much more from projects like Voyager, Hubble, Chandra, and the like than from using the shuttle to put some elementary school's bean sprout dixie cup gardens into orbit. But I suspect that the general public will not support the space program unless they have live astronauts to cheer for. So, who knows what will come next. For now, this book is a thorough, and thought-provoking account of what everyone hopes will be the final shuttle disaster.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12 2004
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Comm Check and while I found little new beyond the news reports, I thought it was an excellent narrative about the Columbia accident. I admit I was skeptical about a book written by news reporters because they have a tendency to sensationalize things to the point that it is no longer factually accurate. However this was not the case with Cabbage and Harwood, a pleasant surprise. I would highly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Feb. 21 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in three evenings. The authors -- two of the best in space journalism -- did an outstanding job of retelling the story of the final flight of Columbia. If you followed the news closely after the disaster you will not find too many new revelations in this book. What you will find is a high level, but gripping narrative similar to going back and re-reading all the news papers from February 1, 2003 onward, but with the advantage of perfect hindsight. The book is necessarily high level. What do I mean by that? A lot of detail had to be left out. For instance, a book this size could be written on the recovery efforts alone. A book this size could be written on the foam impact testing alone. On the work of the CAIB alone. And so on. (And those would all be very interesting books -- especially on the recovery efforts; do you know how often the volunteers encountered 6 ft long water moccasins?)
Other reviews are right -- there is no NASA-bashing. It is a fair and unbiased retelling of the story, as you'd expect from people like Bill Harwood and Mike Cabbage. Its impact lies in having the whole story told all at once. It's a lot to take in. The gravity of the disaster hits the reader pretty hard, especially when reading the theory of exactly how the shuttle disintegrated, stage by stage. The authors were vivid but at no time disrespected the lost crew or their families.
I highly recommend this book. Below is the table of contents:
1 Re-Entry
2 Preparations
3 "Safe to Fly with No New Concerns"
4 Launch
5 A Shot in the Dark
6 Mixed Signals
7 Disaster
8 Aftermath
9 Echoes of Challenger
10 Re-Entry Revisited
11 Returning to Flight
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