Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew. By Michael D. Leinbach and Jonathan H. Ward. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2018. Maps. Diagrams. Photographs. Notes. Glossary. Index. Pp. 356. $25.99 ISBN: 9781628728514
Much has been written about the final flight of the space shuttle orbiter Columbia, a mission on which the orbiter and her seven-member crew were lost after the ship's thermal protection system suffered catastrophic damage during launch. It is well known that the accident was caused by a tragic chain of events. During launch, a piece of foam insulation was dislodged from the shuttle's external fuel tank and struck the orbiter's left wing, creating a gap in the reinforced carbon-carbon material that formed the leading edge of the wing and was designed to handle the extreme heat the wing would experience during its return from orbit. The undetected gap was a non-issue during Columbia's 16-day mission. But on Saturday, February 1, 2003, as the orbiter descended into the atmosphere and was just 16 minutes from landing at Cape Canaveral, the gap allowed hot gasses to enter the wing's internal structure and melt it from the inside out. This led to loss of control, wing failure, and Columbia's break-up over East Texas and Louisiana.
This outstanding book tells the story of Columbia's recovery process, a painstaking effort that began immediately after orbiter debris began coming to Earth and lasted for nearly three months. The authors are eminently qualified to write this story. Leinbach spent 27 years with NASA, serving as Shuttle Launch Director from August 2000 until the program's termination in 2011. He was also directly involved in the Columbia recovery operations from the outset. Ward has worked in the aerospace industry and written extensively on space operations; his books on Apollo-era space missions earned high praise from experts throughout the space community.
Columbia's recovery was a three-part effort, with significant overlap among the parts.
Of primary importance immediately following the accident was the recovery of crew remains. This was critical for families and also essential to enable NASA to determine exactly how the crew had died. Within three days, partial remains of two crew members and significant remains of the others had been found. Ten days after the accident, the final remains were recovered.
The second stage in the process, which overlapped with the recovery of human remains...