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.