Coming Soon

Shortly after the Bush administration decided to end the shuttle program (no later than 2010), we decided that it would be a good idea to have the people who actually worked in the shuttle program write a book detailing our shared experience.  Heaven knows that there are enough books on the shuttle already, and no doubt more to come.  But by and large these books have been written by people who are external to the program:  historians, journalists, and the like.  Several individuals, most of them former astronauts, have written books, but they are necessarily the point of view of a single individual, and therefore can tell only part of the story.

So we decided to write a book on the breadth of the shuttle program, from beginning to end, the good, the bad, and the ugly, with only a couple of rules:  (1) it had to be totally honest, (2) it had to be technically accurate, (3) it had to fit in one volume, and (4) it had to be written by insiders.

Tuesday we had the final editorial board meeting which put a seal on the contents.  From this point on the book is in the hands of the proof readers, the indexers, the graphics designers, and the printer.  We expect the Government Printing Office to have copies on the shelf for sale in January 2011.  Sections will subsequently be posted on the NASA web pages, including any updates from the last couple of flights which exceeded the Bush closing date by maybe as much as a year.

The toughest part of the job was cutting material.  Once our folks got started writing, they couldn’t hold back.  We could have written a 5 volume mini-encyclopedia; or probably a 30 volume real encyclopedia.  But we stuck with our rule to have one volume, approximately 700 pages.

So what is in there?  We tried to tell the “so what” of the shuttle.  What did it accomplish, what did it fail to do, why was it so complex, and why did it cost so much.  Future spacecraft designers may find some instruction here; both what to do and what not to do.

About one third of the book is devoted to the engineering innovations that were required to bring this unique vehicle – and its support systems – into being.  Some of those innovations have now pervaded aerospace engineering as new standards.  About a third of the book is the province of the scientists who used the shuttle to study the universe and smaller things as well.  And the remaining third of the book is all the other stuff; history of the development and operations of the shuttle, a long description of the accidents, an obligatory description of the shuttle and its systems, and some contemplation of the social impact that the shuttle program had on America and the world.

We have quotations or sections written by over 30 astronauts, Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, scientists, program managers, NASA administrators, and flight directors.  More importantly, the vast majority of the book was written by over 100 of the folks who actually did the work: designed, built, maintained, and operated the space shuttle; civil servants and contractors alike.

I think you will find it interesting.  Some of the engineers cannot write coherently but we hired a few English majors to try to translate their jargon into something understandable by non-experts.  We tried to hit the level of Scientific American or National Geographic text, so this is not going to be very simplistic, but perhaps thought provoking.  The illustrations are outstanding.  And there will be a comprehensive appendix for all those who desire statistics and details.

There should be something for everybody interested in the shuttle.  I hope you like it.  We’ve been working on it in our spare time for over four years now.  Or maybe that should really say we’ve been working on it for our whole careers.

Information on how to pre-order the book will appear on the NASA web page in a month or so.

8 thoughts on “Coming Soon”

  1. All Right!! Can hardly wait to get my hands on this outstanding history. The anticipation almost feels like waiting for the next ‘Harry Potter’ to come out 🙂


  2. I still cannot get it through my head that we about to stop flying the Shuttle. It will be another “Concorde” moment when it happens except 10 times worse. It will be another time in Human history when we step back not go forward.

    I look forward to the books release BUT would it not have been better to delay its release until after the very last flight- so the history of the final flight could be included? The final history of the Shuttle is still to be “written”.

  3. It sounds great, and as I’m writing a story about the early shuttle era, it’ll probably be a great research aid.

    Are you doing anything about the shuttle in fiction and popular culture? Because I think that’s one of the most interesting aspects of a program that lasted 30 years. For that whole time, any story or show or movie could show a shuttle and it was established as taking place “now”. And for 30 years, none of those stories were dated, at least in that respect.

    That’s what’s going to be strange come the retirement. Any new story featuring a shuttle’s going to be sort of a period piece.

  4. Wayne,

    I am so excited to hear of this book project – and look forward to seeing the publication. My hope is that it mirrors some of the rich history shared in other NASA publications such as “Apollo Expeditions to the Moon”…

    Thanks for helping to share such stories of the Shuttle program. Thanks also for blogging.

    Enjoy retirement and continue to help us inspire the next generation as we create new ways to travel into space.

    – David, Dayton OH

  5. I’m glad that the history of the Shuttle Program will be documented and will be documented in such a straight forward and honest manner. I’m sure it will serve as a critical document for space historians, not to mention engineer’s, in years to come.

    This is one book I’m really looking forward to reading!

  6. With the phase out of the shuttle and its replacement by new technology that has a back-to-the-future feel about it, I expect 30 years from now we will see a new generation of space vehicles that look very much like a small version of the Shuttle.

    As the Shuttle fades from the scene, its appropriate the corporate memory of insiders who built, maintained and used it is preserved on paper for all the world to read. But as books are also going through a technical transition, I do hope there will be an electronic edition that can be used for referencing and quotes for the next 100 years – paper is so last millennium as a quick reference tool.

    The insiders 700 pages will do wonders as source material for outsiders like the next Tom Wolfe who he/she may be.

    Its a pity the book won’t be ready by 1 December, I would be be filling out my Christmas gift list right now.

  7. Mr. Hale,

    Thank you. Believe it or not, your writing was the only source of, good information that I can find at NASA. It’s forthright, insightful and has been a beacon in uncertain times. I’ve spoken with colleagues all over the country and they agree.

    I’m glad that NASA has allowed you to continue writing (and you agreed!). In case they don’t, or something changes, I have set up a site to mirror/capture the great things you’ve written:

    This is intended to be a no-strings gift. If you’ve got suggestions or comments I’d be happy to implement them. This includes handing it over to you, or alternatively, shutting it down if it something you want.

    Again, thank you for everything, and enjoy your retirement!

    All the Best,

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