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Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the…

Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program (2007)

by Pat Duggins

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Pat Duggins -- space correspondent for National Public Radio -- has written something that, inexplicably, never existed before: A concise, readable overview of the space shuttle program aimed at people who aren't hardcore space geeks. Final Countdown, despite a deeply misleading subtitle (the decision to wind down the shuttle program gets almost no attention), is about the whole sweep of the shuttle program, from its conception in 1969 to its final missions in the early 21st century. It traces the shuttle's origins, the conflicting design requirements that shaped it, and a thirty-year operational history in which it frequently disappointed, occasionally thrilled, and twice broke the hearts of those who watched it from the ground. Duggins, wisely, does not try to mention every shuttle mission, or even most of them. He divides the shuttle's career into eras, and discusses a few key missions from each: the first orbital test flight, the first satellite launch, the first satellite recovery and repair, the launch of the Hubble telescope, the first link-up with Mir, and so on.

Duggins' narrative has two great strengths: His ability to artfully summarize a complex story, and the fact that -- for much of the last two decades of shuttle operations -- he was there. The former becomes apparent when he's tracing the shuttle's origins: a story in which he shows how engineering, politics, and public relations created lofty expectations and vehicle that couldn't possibly fulfill them. For those readers who don't know the story it will be a revelation. The latter comes front and center when Duggins narrates the shuttle's role in constructing the International Space Station a project that, he persuasively argues, belatedly gave the shuttle a real purpose for the first time. It is even more apparent when Duggins describes the Columbia disaster. His low-key memories -- the wait beside a Florida runway, the growing worry as time passed, the text message that confirmed the worst -- are surprisingly gripping. The sentence "everyone's cell phones started going off" has never been so chilling.

The only significant flaw in this book is one largely beyond the author's control. Published in 2009, it is framed by chapters about Project Constellation, proposed during the George W. Bush administration as a follow-on to the shuttle and a stepping stone to the exploration of the Moon and, ultimately, Mars. The cancellation of Constellation in early 2010 leaves the book feeling instantly, profoundly dated. Like a book on American foreign policy published just before 9/11, the framing chapters of Final Countdown peer thoughtfully into a future that will never come to pass. The book as a whole, however, is valuable and likely to remain so. There is, simply, nothing else like it. For readers who unfamiliar with the shuttle, who want to know what it was all about, there is no better place to start.
  ABVR | May 6, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081303146X, Hardcover)

The Space Shuttle was once the cornerstone of the U.S. space program. However, each new flight brings us one step closer to the retirement of the shuttle in 2010. Final Countdown is the riveting history of NASA's Space Shuttle program, its missions, and its impending demise. It also examines the plans and early development of the space agency’s next major effort: the Orion Crew Exploration Capsule.
Journalist Pat Duggins, National Public Radio's resident "space expert," chronicles the planning stages of the shuttle program in the early 1970s, the thrills of the first flight in 1981, construction of the International Space Station in the 1990s, and the decision in the early 2000s to shut it down.
As a rookie reporter visiting the Kennedy Space Center hangar to view the Challenger wreckage, Duggins was in a unique position to offer a poignant eyewitness account of NASA's first shuttle disaster. In Final Countdown, he recounts the agency's struggle to rebound after the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, and explores how politics, scientific entrepreneurship, and the human drive for exploration have impacted the program in sometimes unexpected ways.
Duggins has covered eighty-six shuttle missions, and his twenty-year working relationship with NASA has given him unprecedented access to personnel. Many spoke openly and frankly with him, including veteran astronaut John Young, who discusses the travails to get the shuttle program off the ground. Young's crewmate, astronaut Bob Crippen, reveals the frustration and loss he felt when his first opportunity to go into space on the first planned space station was taken away.
As the shuttle program winds down, more astronauts may face similar disappointments. Final Countdown is a story of lost dreams, new hopes, and the ongoing conquest of space.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:02 -0400)

"Final Countdown is the story of NASA's Space Shuttle program its missions and its impending demise. It also offers a preview of the space agency's next major effort the Orion Crew Exploration Capsule."--BOOK JACKET.

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