Bring­ing Columbia Home

The Un­told Story of a Lost Space Shut­tle and Her Crew

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS - BEN EVANS is a sci­ence and astronomy writer

Michael D Lein­bach, Jonathan Ward Ar­cade Pub­lish­ing £18.99 HB

On 1 Fe­bru­ary 2003, a long and painful re­cov­ery got un­der­way to bring seven fallen astro­nauts and NASA’s flag­ship Space Shut­tle home. Columbia was de­stroyed dur­ing re-en­try and the next few months would re­mind NASA that space travel is a harsh and un­for­giv­ing busi­ness. Writ­ten by NASA launch di­rec­tor Mike Lein­bach and space his­to­rian Jonathan Ward, Bring­ing Columbia Home tells the story of STS-107, from its warm-hearted crew to its cat­a­strophic re­turn to Earth and the ef­forts of 25,000 vol­un­teers to find the ship’s re­mains. The mem­ory of Columbia’s sis­ter Chal­lenger, lost 17 years ear­lier, haunts this book. Lein­bach and Ward out­line sim­i­lar sched­ule pres­sures, bu­reau­cratic ob­sta­cles and en­gi­neers whose con­cerns were dis­re­garded by se­nior man­agers.

The au­thors list missed warn­ings of im­pend­ing doom. Pho­tos of the Shut­tle’s ex­ter­nal tank, the root cause of the dis­as­ter, were never an­a­lysed; im­ages of the mor­tally scarred Columbia in space were never re­quested; and long-range track­ing cam­eras were ei­ther out of fo­cus or not func­tional. 100 suc­cess­ful mis­sions had con­vinced man­agers of the Shut­tle’s in­vin­ci­bil­ity.

Bring­ing Columbia Home re­minds us of the peo­ple who died as a re­sult of the Columbia dis­as­ter. And we are re­minded of Columbia her­self, “the beloved black sheep of the fleet”. Telling the story of a mis­sion with­out men­tion­ing the space­craft, one NASA qual­ity in­spec­tor re­flected, is like telling the story of Star Trek with­out men­tion­ing the En­ter­prise.

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