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The Space Shuttle Decision:
by T. A. Heppenheimer
Para Beverley: mi vida, mi amor, las esposa de me corazon.
Some projects begin by happenstance, and in such a fashion, the present book grew out of my commercial work, Countdown: A History of Space Flight (John Wiley, 1997). In researching its source material, I made good use of the NASA SP series of books — and noticed that there was a significant gap in their coverage. The series included works on most of the principal piloted programs: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz. There was nothing, however, on the Space Shuttle.
In June 1996, I visited the NASA History Office to conduct research on an article for the magazine Air & Space. I heard someone say the name, “Roger,” and quickly met the chief historian, Roger Launius. When I asked him about the lack of Space Shuttle coverage, he replied with a tale of woe. He had offered this project to Professor John Logsdon of George Washington University, who certainly would have carried it out quite capably. However, they had been unable to agree on the terms of a contract. Launius had approached other writers and aerospace historians as well, again to no avail.
Seeing an opportunity, I suggested that I might write NASA’s Space Shuttle book. Dr. Launius expressed interest and later, early in July, I submitted a formal proposal. Four months later, at the beginning of November, I was informed that I was to receive the assignment. I learned that Dr. Launius saw this as the first in a three-volume history of the Shuttle. The present book, Volume I, covers events through the awarding of the principal contracts in 1972. Volume II, presently in preparation, will treat the technical development of the Shuttle, through the eve of its first flight in 1981. Volume III will present the operational Shuttle, including the first 100 flights.
It is a pleasure to note the people who have helped me in this work. Dr. Launius has been in the forefront, taking an active interest and steering me to other archives while offering full use of his own NASA holdings. His archivist Lee Saegesser, now retired, gave valuable help in finding specific documents. Other members of his staff have helped as well: Nadine Andreassen, Colin Fries, Stephen Garber, Mark Kahn, Terese Ohnsorg, and especially Louise Alstork, who copyedited the typescript.
The correspondence, memos, and project documents that served as source material, exclusive of published books, filled three suitcases. Much of this material came from other NASA center archives, and I received valuable help from their own staff members. At Marshall Space Flight Center, key people include Mike Wright, Alan Grady, and Laura Ballentine. At Johnson Space Center, I received much help from Janine Bolton and Sharon Halprin. At Kennedy Space Center, I relied on Donna Atkins and Elaine Liston.
The Air Force maintains an extensive archive at Maxwell AFB, and I received good help from the librarian Ann Webb. A security officer, Archie DiFante, worked with classified materials and performed the highly valuable service of releasing some of their unclassified sections to me, on the spot. At the University of Michigan’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, the librarian Kenna Gaynor helped as well. During my days as a graduate student in that department, early in the 1970s, I had compiled a collection of contractors’ space-shuttle documents, and had donated them to the department library. A quarter-century later, with help from my former professor Harm Buning, Ms. Gaynor found some of this material and sent it on to me.
I also learned much through interviews with key individuals: J. Leland Atwood, former chairman of North American Aviation (NAA); Robert Biggs, the corporate memory at Rocketdyne; Paul Castenholz, the man who made the Space Shuttle Main Engine; Maxime Faget, a principal Shuttle designer; and Dale Myers, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight. This list of interviewees is somewhat limited, for a good reason: I was able to use transcripts from NASA’s own program of oral history interviews.
In providing help, Professor John Logsdon stands in a class by himself. He personally conducted many of these interviews, and provided me with transcripts. He wrote a book-length monograph on the rise of the Space Shuttle. He also gave me the free use of his own archive, which contains thousands of neatly filed and readily accessible letters and memos.
My thanks also go to Tammy Golbert of the Folsom Library at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She gave me access to the papers of George Low that are on deposit within that library’s special collections.
This project has been something of a family affair, and I note the help of my son Alex Heppenheimer, who used the Internet to secure a valuable guide to published source material. My former wife, Phyllis LaVietes, served as my secretary and took care of my word processing. I note as well the contributions of the artists Don Davis and Dan Gauthier, who provided me with illustrations. In addition to this, much of this book’s line art and photography comes courtesy of the author Dennis Jenkins. His book Space Shuttle (Walsworth Publishing Company, 1966) contains much interior art, and he has generously made it available for use by NASA.
The NASA Headquarters Printing and Design Office developed the layout and handled printing for this volume. Specifically, I wish to acknowledge the work of Geoff Hoffman, Janie Penn, Chris Pysz, and Kelly Rindfusz for their expert editorial and design work. In addition, Stanley Artis, Michael Crnkovic, and Jeffrey Thompson saw the book through the publication process. Thanks are due to all of them.
With considerable joy, I dedicate this book to my wife, the former Beverley Brownlee. We were married in West Palm Beach, Florida, on June 8, 1998, as I was completing the preparation of this work for the press.
Fountain Valley, California
June 28, 1998