From Publishers Weekly
Many Americans' only memories of their country's excursions into space are of the space shuttle program, inaugurated with the launch of Columbia
in 1981. Twenty-two years later, Columbia'
s disintegration over the Southwest played a major role in the decision to end the program. NPR journalist Duggins reviews the 25-year saga of the shuttle missions, some of which have been shrouded in mystery, as astronauts took secret military payloads into space; others received worldwide attention and acclaim, as when the Hubble Space Telescope was restored to 20–20 vision. The author repeats the oft-made charge that the shuttle is a space vehicle in search of a true mission. Too often shuttle administrators have settled for running a billion-dollar short-distance trucking service to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. The book's first chapter is a look forward at what NASA plans for the next quarter century, but this misplaced preview delays launch of the main story. Readers also might wish Duggins had shared more of his reporter's experiences in covering the shuttle program. Nevertheless, this history is a worthy addition to the recent torrent of books about the American space program. Illus. (Oct. 21)
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Surveying the history of the space shuttle, Duggins delivers descriptions of the system amid explanations of the aims of human spaceflight. Knowledgeable on the subject as NPR's space-shuttle reporter, Duggins relates the technological and financial compromises that resulted in the final design of the shuttle launch configuration, which is far different from NASA's original blueprint. Nevertheless, it was the ticket to space, and Duggins' original narrative elements portray the experiences of several shuttle crew members in applying to become astronauts and recounts their subsequent missions. For backdrop to these human-interest stories, Duggins constructs the arc of shuttle history, including the Challenger and Columbia catastrophes, of course, but emphasizing the shuttle's chronic problems of costliness and of the search for an inspiring purpose. After assembling the International Space Station, the shuttle was retired, leaving NASA shooting for the moon again with proposed successor spacecraft depicted in image and word. With its history and status-report aspects, his informed report will engage readers concerned with the space program. Taylor, Gilbert