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Bringing Columbia home : the untold story of a lost space shuttle and her crew
2018
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Author Notes
Michael D. Leinbach was the last launch director in the space shuttle program at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, responsible for overall shuttle launch countdown activities until the end of the program in 2011. In November 2004, Leinbach was awarded the prestigious 2004 Presidential Rank Award. He lives in Scottsmoor, Florida.

Jonathan H. Ward works to bring the thrill of the space program to life for the general public as a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as a frequent speaker on space exploration topics to interest groups and at regional conferences. He is the author of two previous books on space exploration. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Captain Robert L. Crippen, USN, Retired (foreword) was Columbia 's first pilot. He received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1960. He has received numerous special honors, including the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, three Distinguished Service Medals, the US Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the FAA's Award for Distinguished Service, the Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, four NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Award, the American Aeronautical Society Flight Achievement Award, the National Geographic Society's Gardiner Greene Hubbard Medal, the Aviation Hall of Fame 1981 Al J. Engel Award, American Legion's Distinguished Service Medal, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Ivan C. Kincheloe Award, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

Colonel Eileen Collins, USAF, Retired (epilogue) became NASA's first female shuttle commander on a 1999 mission in the Columbia . She holds a master's degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University, a master's degree in operations research from Stanford University, and a master's degree in space systems management from Webster University. She is from Elmira, New York.
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Library Journal Review
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, killing all seven crew members and raining debris across a 250-mile stretch of mostly eastern Texas and western Louisiana. To search this vast distance for remains, it took dozens of federal agencies and hundreds of volunteers who embarked on weeks of painstaking work, making the disaster the largest ground search operation in U.S. history. But finding the pieces of the wreckage was not the end of the story; months of reconstruction and analysis were needed in order to figure out what happened. In this behind-the-scenes account of the investigation, Leinbach (retired, NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Ctr.) and Ward (solar system ambassador, Jet Propulsion Laboratory), in a true narrative fashion, present a very nuanced view of the entire proceedings, from the mistakes made within NASA to the somberness of the memorials to the chaos of the first days after the disaster and the meticulousness of the latter ones. While an array of acronyms and minute technical details appear throughout, such specialized knowledge is not necessary to understanding the material. VERDICT Readers interested in space and systems -operations will find much to enjoy about this title.-Laura Hiatt, Fort Collins, CO © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In this fast-paced and affecting account, Leinbach, NASA's last shuttle-launch director, and Ward, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's solar-system ambassador, expertly relate "the largest land search-and-recovery operation in United States history." The space shuttle Columbia broke up on reentry in February 2003 due to an undetected and unlikely breach in the leading edge of the left wing, and wreckage rained down along a 250-mile path across Texas and Louisiana. The authors intimately reconstruct the tragic disaster through spare but necessarily jargon-heavy prose and extensive interviews. It's a moving and sometimes uncomfortably close account; they relate, for example, how the heat shield disintegrated and dusted roads "with something that looked like fine snow," as well as details about the crew's last moments. A team of 25,000 people searched an area "roughly the size of Rhode Island," recovering 84,000 pieces of debris-many of them nickel size-and all seven astronauts' remains. The unadorned, multisensory narration richly depicts the emotions and everyday acts of heroism of all involved. Keen's sketches of the recovery's dizzying logistics and the science describing the shuttle's crash and reconstruction allow readers to experience what every volunteer interviewed said "was a singular defining moment" in their lives. Illus. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Booklist Review
Here's the story of the recovery of the remains of the space shuttle Columbia, told by the man who spearheaded the effort. Leinbach was the director of NASA's space shuttle program in 2003, when the Columbia disintegrated during reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Along with coauthor Ward, he chronicles, in this gripping and dramatic book, the massive undertaking that was involved in finding the remains of the shuttle, and he notes throughout the enormous toll that the mission took on the people involved (some of whom were looking for what remained of the bodies of their dead colleagues and friends). Readers may wonder why this story hasn't been told before; many know what happened to Columbia, but most likely their understanding of what took place afterward is hazy. It's an important and fascinating chapter in space history, and it finally gets the full treatment it deserves. As told by someone who was involved in the effort from the beginning, it's also a deeply personal and moving story.--Pitt, David Copyright 2017 Booklist
Kirkus Review
On Feb. 1, 2003, the Columbia space shuttle went silent upon re-entry. Here are the principal details about the accident, the recovery of the wreckage and human remains, the reassembly, the discovery of the cause, and the consequences for the shuttle program.Leinbach, in whose first-person voice we hear this account, was the launch director for the Columbia mission; co-author Ward is an authority on space exploration and author of two previous works on the subject (Countdown to a Moon Launch, 2015, etc.). Chronological in approach, the story begins with the silence from the shuttle and the fearand certaintyon the ground that the worst had happened. The shuttle broke apart, scattering debris across 250 miles of East Texas and Louisiana, an accident that could have been far worse, as the authors note. No one on the ground was injured, though even a small change in the breakup could have sent the wreckage spilling into cities. The authors follow the sequence carefully and chronicle in great detail the search and recovery of the wreckage (eventually more than 60,000 pieces) and human remains, a search that ultimately cost millions of dollars and involved some 25,000 people, from private citizens to personnel from a myriad of local and federal agencies. The authors describe the hunt for the human remains, but, humanely, they do not tell us exactly what that entailed. Instead, we hear, for example, a poignant story about a watch found and returned to a spouse. The authors are careful to credit individuals who played key roles and take care to describe and explain what caused the crash, a conclusion possible only after careful reassembly and analysis. They also discuss subsequent shuttle missions and the ultimate demise of the program.A gripping account of a fatal tragedy and the impressive and deeply emotional human response that ensued. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
Voted the Best Space Book of 2018 by the Space Hipsters

The dramatic inside story of the epic search and recovery operation after the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

On February 1, 2003, Columbia disintegrated on reentry before the nation's eyes, and all seven astronauts aboard were lost. Author Mike Leinbach, Launch Director of the space shuttle program at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center was a key leader in the search and recovery effort as NASA, FEMA, the FBI, the US Forest Service, and dozens more federal, state, and local agencies combed an area of rural east Texas the size of Rhode Island for every piece of the shuttle and her crew they could find. Assisted by hundreds of volunteers, it would become the largest ground search operation in US history. This comprehensive account is told in four parts: Parallel Confusion Courage, Compassion, and Commitment Picking Up the Pieces A Bittersweet Victory

For the first time, here is the definitive inside story of the Columbia disaster and recovery and the inspiring message it ultimately holds. In the aftermath of tragedy, people and communities came together to help bring home the remains of the crew and nearly 40 percent of shuttle, an effort that was instrumental in piecing together what happened so the shuttle program could return to flight and complete the International Space Station. Bringing Columbia Home shares the deeply personal stories that emerged as NASA employees looked for lost colleagues and searchers overcame immense physical, logistical, and emotional challenges and worked together to accomplish the impossible.

Featuring a foreword and epilogue by astronauts Robert Crippen and Eileen Collins, and dedicated to the astronauts and recovery search persons who lost their lives, this is an incredible, compelling narrative about the best of humanity in the darkest of times and about how a failure at the pinnacle of human achievement became a story of cooperation and hope.
Table of Contents
Foreword    Robert Crippenp. ix
Part IParallel Confusion
Chapter 1Silence and Shockp. 3
Chapter 2Good Things Come to People Who Waitp. 7
Chapter 3The Foam Strikep. 25
Chapter 4Landing Dayp. 36
Part IICourage, Compassion, and Commitment
Chapter 5Recovery Day 1p. 51
Chapter 6Assessing the Situationp. 88
Chapter 7Searching for the Crewp. 107
Part IIIPicking Up the Pieces
Chapter 8Columbia Is Going Home in a Coffinp. 139
Chapter 9Walkers, Divers, and Spottersp. 167
Chapter 10Their Mission Became Our Missionp. 191
Chapter 11Reconstructing Columbiap. 206
Part IVA Bittersweet Victory
Chapter 12Healing and Closurep. 237
Chapter 13Preserving and Learning from Columbiap. 252
Chapter 14The Beginning of the Endp. 264
Chapter 15Celebrating 25,000 Heroesp. 280
Epilogue by Eileen Collinsp. 291
Authors' Notes and Acknowledgmentsp. 297
Intervieweesp. 301
Acronyms and Technical Termsp. 308
Notesp. 316
Indexp. 336
About the Authorsp. 353
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