Bringing Columbia Home
The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew
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.