Category: Nonfiction
Reviewed by: Ted Spitzmiller
Title: NASA Space Shuttle: 40th Anniversary
Authors: Piers Bizony and Roger D. Launius
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Format: Hardcover/Kindle
Pages: 192
Publisher: Motorbooks
Date: May 2021
Retail Price: $50.00/$21.99
ISBN: 978-0760370056

There have been many books about the Space Shuttle, its development, and operational use. Typically, these are told in technical detail that may impede the non-technical reader. The objective of this book is to tell the Shuttle’s story in a succinct manner and with the use of extensive illustrations.

Authored by the renowned former NASA Chief Historian Roger D. Launius and Piers Bizony, the early history is well told, as is the difficult decision President Nixon had to make authorizing the project that Congress did not well support. While it was essentially sold on its economic merits, the authors relate that the final push was the need to remain ahead of the Soviet’s space efforts.

Unfortunately, the first paragraph directs our emotions of a Shuttle launch’s immense sound and power to an explicit sexual encounter rather than uplifting our spirits. How would you explain this ill-advised content to a pre-teen?

The hundreds of pictures are spectacular, many of which I had never seen. In addition to those embedded within the text, there are three segments of 36, 30, and 46 photos; most are full-page, associated with each of the first three chapters, whose captions are situated at the end of each segment. While it may have seemed like a good arrangement, it doesn’t work well in practice. It requires the reader to move between the photo segments and the caption page. Be careful, as there are a few captions that don’t match the picture.

A point of contention for some readers might be the statement regarding the need for the expensive development for the larger wings. They were to be used for the anticipated extensive cross-track reentry required by the military—but were never needed operationally when the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base was discarded before it was used.

The initial operational period is well defined, as is the Challenger accident. The book’s strong point is its ability to highlight various aspects of the Shuttle in few words. This included assisting Russia in maintaining its space-related economy after the fall of the Soviet Union—such as the joint Shuttle-Mir missions.

The building of the ISS is well covered, as is the vast array of science conducted aboard the Shuttle. It provided the initial Earth orbit for the planetary probes to Venus, Jupiter, and the asteroid belt. Of particular interest for many will be the Hubble Space Telescope and its repair missions. The Columbia tragedy in 2003 is reviewed and sets the stage for the demise of the project.

The fourth and last segment of the book is relatively short. It briefly reviews the triumphs and tragedies and notes that the Shuttle was essentially decades ahead of its time. We are now almost a half-century after it began taking shape, a decade after its ultimate phase-out, and there is currently no reusable spaceplane to take its place.

© 2021 Ted Spitzmiller

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