On 12th April 1981 a revolutionary new spacecraft blasted off from Florida on her maiden flight. NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia was the most advanced flying machine ever built – the high watermark of post-war aviation development. A direct descendant of the record-breaking X-planes the likes of which Chuck Yeager had tested in the skies over the Mojave Desert, Columbia was a winged rocket plane, the size of an airliner, capable of flying to space and back before being made ready to fly again. She was the world’s first real spaceship.
On board were men with the Right Stuff. The Shuttle’s Commander, moonwalker John Young, was already a veteran of five spaceflights. Alongside him, Pilot Bob Crippen was making his first, but Crip, taken in by the space agency after the cancellation of a top secret military space station programme in 1969, had worked on the Shuttle’s development for a decade. Never before had a crew been so well prepared for their mission.
Yet less than an hour after Young and Crippen’s spectacular departure from the Cape it was clear that all was not well. Tiles designed to protect Columbia from the blowtorch burn of re-entry were missing from the heatshield. If the damage to their ship was too great the astronauts would be unable to return safely to earth. But neither they nor mission control possessed any way of knowing.
Instead, NASA turned to the National Reconnaissance Office, a spy agency hidden deep inside the Pentagon whose very existence was classified. To help, the NRO would attempt something that had never been done before. Success would require skill, pinpoint timing and luck …
Drawing on brand new interviews with astronauts and engineers, archive material and newly declassified documents, Rowland White, bestselling author of Vulcan 607, has pieced together the dramatic untold story of the mission for the first time. Into the Black is a thrilling race against time; a gripping high stakes cold-war story, and a celebration of a beyond the state-of-the-art machine that, hailed as one of the seven new wonders of the world, rekindled our passion for spaceflight.
*With a foreword by Astronaut Richard Truly*
‘Beautifully researched and written, Into the Black tells the true, complete story of the Space Shuttle better than it’s ever been told before.’
Colonel Chris Hadfield, former Astronaut and Space Station Commander
‘Brilliantly revealed, Into the Black is the finely tuned true story of the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Rowland White has magnificently laid bare the unknown dangers and unseen hazards of that first mission … Once read, not forgotten.’
Aviation historian White (The Big Book of Flight) explores the history of the American space program, leading up to an in-depth recounting of the first flight of Columbia. After opening with a teaser for the shuttle flight, White plunges into the early days of NASA and American space exploration, which may surprise readers looking for the story of Columbia and its astronauts. This flurry of names, dates, anagrams, and careers handily sets the stage, but the sense of these historical figures as people is largely lost until the book focuses on its main subject. The meticulous attention to detail also hampers and interrupts the narrative flow with unnecessarily specific information. However, the account of Columbia's flight is made richer by a greater sense of the fragility and ingenuity of the shuttle and the shuttle program. White's use of records and firsthand accounts from the Columbia program makes the stakes real and immediate, even with knowledge of the outcome. Readers with extensive knowledge of military planes and an interest in the politics of the space program will appreciate White's contextualizing of Columbia's first flight; the story may be slow going for other readers, but it is worth the effort.
Into the Black
Another Brilliant Read from Rowland White..!
A terrific account of the years running ups and including the first Shuttle launch, Columbia.