Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew Info

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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.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew:

5

March 1, 2018

Since my son was Cdr Willie McCool this book had ...
Since my son was Cdr Willie McCool this book had a special meaning for me. Additional closure and an account on the events while I was in Houston during the recovery efforts. I give it 5 Dtars plus

Barent McCool
5

January 16, 2018

Heartbreaking and HEARTWARMING story
The book tells the Space Shuttle Columbia’s last flight and break up on re-entry, and while offering some technical descriptions, is much more focused on the amazing people who searched for the crews’ remains and shuttle debris and those that re-constructed the pieces to help determine what went wrong. There is a wonderful rhythm to the book - Part 1 sets the stage. Part 2 is quite intense with a fast tempo chronicling the re-entry and search for the crews’ remains. Here, you meet ordinary citizens stepping up to do extraordinary deeds under pressure to not only perform well, but to perform quickly. You also see different local and national government agencies working together seamlessly. I cried at the end of this part; not just because of the loss of life but because of the selflessness, generosity and amazing spirit of so many people. In Part 3, we learn about the months-long search for the debris and the tempo of the book slows a bit, becoming more methodically, mirroring this search. The final part of the books brings closure to the search and cause of the accident and reflects back on the lessons learned, the heroics of the all the people involved - the engineers, the searchers, the families of the astronauts. The book is engrossing and educational and I highly recommend it. One piece of advice: read the Notes in the back as you go along - they provide rich information and add power to the stories!
5

February 3, 2018

A must read for all Americans
NASA is part of the American fabric. It’s astronauts and mission stand for those ideals that this great country was founded on: pushing boundaries, exploration, and building on those who went before us.

Bringing Columbia Home is really a story about America and it’s beloved Space Shuttle. How the iconic NASA and thousands of everyday Americans pulled together in a tragic circumstance to ensure the fallen astronaut’s families had closure and moving the space program forward back to flight.

This is a fantastic book and if you’re like me, a kid of the 80s, honors the Space Shuttle which hung on your wall and was as big as your dreams.
5

June 27, 2018

All The Right Stuff
This was an amazing book, both technical on one hand, but so very much a story of the best of America on the other. At the time of the Columbia loss, I was still too unsettled by the visuals of the Trade Center Towers attack and collapse. I had at one time had an office on the 98th floor of the North Tower, and I didn't want the details of the loss of the Columbia. But I'm a nerd at heart, and in spite of a few sessions of tears as I read this book, it is so worth reading now, especially now, as our country is virtually ripping itself apart. This story of literally bringing home both the Columbia crew and the shuttle itself, and the 25,000 people who reverently picked up the remains of man, woman and technology, it somehow made me feel better. It maybe gave me some hope we will be able to prevent our country's wider disintegration, and put ourselves back together once again. And, get our butts back in space. Exploration and imagination of great things ahead often serve to both heal and unify. Go NASA!!
5

January 11, 2018

Superb book
Mr. Leinbach and Mr. Ward have written a superb book. It's really a tribute that they can write about the tragedy of Columbia exploding and still convey so much goodness that came afterward -- the humanity shown when so many people found themselves working for a common goal of finding answers and finding tens of thousands of pieces of debris -- some the size of a nickel -- over hundreds of miles. The narrative is fast-paced, and the technical aspects to be told are written sensitively and respectfully. It's almost incredible that such a heartbreaking story would end on an inspirational note, but it does. I just finished reading it and I am going to read it again.
5

January 31, 2018

“Their mission became our mission.”
Everybody knows how this story begins. The tragedy of Columbia’s final flight is indelibly seared into our memory. That’s not what this book is about. This is about the thousands of NASA workers, east Texas residents and volunteers from all over the country who literally and figuratively picked up the pieces in an effort to get back into space. This is where the heart and soul of Columbia’s final flight is honored.

This book gives an excellent accounting of hundreds of witnesses to the largest recovery effort the world has ever seen. I️ can not recommend this book enough.
4

Oct 11, 2019

“The last few seconds of telemetry received in Mission Control on February 1 indicated Columbia’s crew likely knew their ship was in trouble in the final half minute before it broke apart. The data showed that Columbia’s steering thrusters were firing to compensate for drag on the left wing, the ship was rolling, and the triply-redundant hydraulic system was losing pressure. All of those conditions would have set off alarms inside the cockpit.” – Michael D. Leinbach and Jonathan H. Ward, “The last few seconds of telemetry received in Mission Control on February 1 indicated Columbia’s crew likely knew their ship was in trouble in the final half minute before it broke apart. The data showed that Columbia’s steering thrusters were firing to compensate for drag on the left wing, the ship was rolling, and the triply-redundant hydraulic system was losing pressure. All of those conditions would have set off alarms inside the cockpit.” – Michael D. Leinbach and Jonathan H. Ward, Bringing Columbia Home

While living in Central Florida, I used to watch the shuttles ascend to space and hear the twin sonic booms upon return. In 2003, I belonged to a professional organization and had arranged a speaker from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for our monthly meeting. His topic was to be “Risk Management in the Space Shuttle Program.” Just days before the meeting, the Columbia disaster occurred. Needless to say, the speaker canceled the engagement and I have always wondered what he would have said.

This book is written by the Launch Director of KSC for Columbia STS-107, the flight that ended disaster when it disintegrated upon reentry on February 1, 2003. He provides an inside view to the sequence of events during the loss of signal, notification of the crew's families, retrieval of remains, collection of debris across a 250-mile swath of East Texas, reconstruction of the debris, and proof of what went wrong. He does not try to avoid responsibility. It is told in a logical, step-by-step manner with lots of details on the people, processes, and technology involved. It may be too detailed for some readers, but it is exactly what I would expect from a technical professional with an engineering background.

”’Prove to me that it’s not safe to come home’ demonstrates a very different management culture than ‘prove to me that it is safe to come home.’ The former attitude quashes arguments and debates when there is no hard evidence to support a concern. It allows people to talk themselves into a false sense of security. The latter encourages exploration of an issue and development of contingencies.”

The book is well-organized. Footnotes and informative diagrams are provided, along with a glossary of technical terms and photos. It is difficult to keep track of the numerous participants’ names and the tech-talk gets a little cumbersome at times, but the paragraphs summarizing each chapter are particularly well-crafted and enlightening. The authors balance human-interest stories with methodical root-cause analysis.

The authors highlight many little-known facts, such as the key contributions of the Texas Forest Service and wildland firefighting crews to the search and recovery efforts. I was not previously aware that two searchers had died. It is a historic record of events done at a time when people still remember (and are still around). It is a fitting tribute to the over 25,000 people and 450 federal, state, local, and volunteer organizations that came together to help in the aftermath of the disaster.

Everyone agrees on two remarkable facts: The Columbia recovery was the largest ground search effort in American history; and it was also one with no internal strife, bickering, or inter-agency squabbles. Everyone involved had a single goal and worked collectively to achieve it - to bring Columbia and her crew home.

The cockpit window frames of Columbia and a fuselage section of Challenger are on display at the Space Shuttle Atlantis building of the KSC Visitors Complex. I have seen this memorial and found it very moving. This book is recommended to anyone interested in the past, present, or future of space exploration. ...more
2

April 24, 2018

Dreadfully boring read as the author thanks thousands by name...
I honestly had high hopes on this book, I expected some incredible details on what happened and what could have been done.

Instead we got an enormous dry read which goes into extraordinary details thanking every-single-person involved in the Columbia Accident and Recovery. It was a dreadful read that was tough to push through and read the entire book.

There's a section of the book which details the cause, series of events and what happened during re-entry. That's well worth reading.

The rest is just a complete bore to read while the author endlessly praises NASA.
5

September 29, 2018

What a book, what a book, WHAT A BOOK !!
Just finishied what I believe to be, the BEST book I've read in the past several years. First off, the story of the Columbia is totally engrossing, but to have the story told by NASA personell, makes it even more interesting. Their involvement with the spacecraft was truly from "birth" to death". The Columbia story is certainly a tradegy, but the efforts to retrieve the wereckage and the remains of the 7 astronauts is a tale that's been told with tremendous detail and sensitivity. The effotrs expended by thousands of people, with unbounding enthusuasm and sensitivity is really something to experience, and it's well communicated throughout this book. I live in Austin, TX, and watched the Columbia disentigrate as it entered the atmosphere that Saturday morning. It has left an imprint on my soul. This book has answered so many questions for me. It has also given me the incentive to make a "pilgrimage" to Hemphill in the very near future to visit the museum. The detail is extraordinary!!!!!
2

January 25, 2018

1) Why would an operation like that have to rely on food donations
Just read 'Bringing Columbia Home,' by Nasa's Mike Leinbach. It is the story of the response to the Shuttle Columbia's breakup, and the recovery of the astronauts and debris. I thought it was going to be an insider's look at the causes and fixes. Not. It was basically worthless, but raised so many questions. 1) Why would an operation like that have to rely on food donations? 2) why was it so damn important to get the local schools open? 3) Why does NASA hate the media? 4) Why would it take 11 hours for the Air Force to get a transport to KSC?
Oh, and he says 25,000 people took part in the search and recovery, and I'll bet he names 5,000 of them. What a disappointment. Anyone who wants a good look at this incident should read 'Comm Check,' By Michael Cabbage.
5

February 2, 2018

Really enjoyed reading this and learning more about how NASA
I found this book profoundly moving. It's a well-written story of the Columbia shuttle disaster told by insiders who were there and witnessed the recovery operations. Really enjoyed reading this and learning more about how NASA, the people of Texas, and multiple governmental organizations worked together to bring Columbia and its crew back after the 2003 mishap. Well worth reading.
2

March 10, 2018

Skim the middle.
The middle of the book reads like a bibliography, naming seemingly each person that found a piece of wreckage. The beginning is great and the analysis of an emergency rescue launch was good but brief.
2

February 12, 2019

Tedious And Redundant
With a title like "Bringing Columbia Home," this book cannot be accused of being misleading. I did not anticipate, however, that the book would be a seemingly endless series of redundant paragraphs describing names that I shall not remember, repeated descriptions of difficult terrains to explore and strategically withheld details.

This was truly a struggle to finish and those interested in the Columbia disaster should consider alternatives.
5

February 8, 2018

Outstanding coverage; moving stories of dedication
As an avid follower of all things space I found this book to be in my top ten of all time favorite reads on a tragic but ultimately enriching experience. I saw Columbia that morning of February 1, 2003 as I was driving from Dallas to Fort Worth, Texas. On our return we saw signs beside the roads “Report Shuttle Debris”. I agree with other reviewers that all Americans and lovers of spaceflight should read this book. It will renew your belief that there is much good in America. A lot of it is found in our rural small towns like the ones in East Texas.
2

June 11, 2018

Informative read
Interesting and informative but writing is tedious, repetitive, and frequently maudlin.
2

April 1, 2018

Hard to stick with.....
The book is interesting in places but becomes tedious with the unending logistical details. Just too much detail about search processes and personnel, search support people, who was assigned what duty, which volunteer found what, who made the food for searchers, etc.
Reading the book was a slow slog.
5

Feb 07, 2018

On the morning of February 1, 2003, I was in my car and tuned in to the local NPR radio station. Despite working in the space industry, I hadn't been following shuttle missions very closely, so I wasn't expecting to hear anything in particular about Columbia's return. But I was confused to hear an audio feed from mission control in Houston, with the call, "Columbia, Houston. Comm check." repeated over and over. What was going on? Why were they broadcasting this? Of course the grim situation soon On the morning of February 1, 2003, I was in my car and tuned in to the local NPR radio station. Despite working in the space industry, I hadn't been following shuttle missions very closely, so I wasn't expecting to hear anything in particular about Columbia's return. But I was confused to hear an audio feed from mission control in Houston, with the call, "Columbia, Houston. Comm check." repeated over and over. What was going on? Why were they broadcasting this? Of course the grim situation soon became clear, and in the years since I've become a spacecraft flight controller—albeit on uncrewed, interplanetary missions—those words took on a particular poignancy for me, as I could imagine myself in the shoes of the person speaking them.

I very much enjoyed this story-driven account of the Columbia disaster, the resulting immense ground search and recovery operation, and the effort to identify the cause of Columbia's breakup on re-entry. The authors include technical information in a way that I think would be accessible to a layperson, especially with the support of the included diagrams. But what makes this book so much more compelling than, e.g., the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report, are the human details. The authors interviewed dozens of people involved in the recovery effort, from high-level officials in the investigation to local East Texas residents who simply turned up to help in any way they could. The stories of interviewees' personal relationships with the Columbia crew; the sometimes solemn, sometimes amusing accounts of searchers and residents finding debris and remains; and even the anecdotes of little old ladies dropping off homemade cornbread to help feed the throngs of recovery personnel all contribute to an appreciation for the emotional and physical difficulty of the effort, not to mention its unprecedented scale.

If logistics and infrastructure interest you as they do me, you'll find plenty to engage you. On very short notice and with little in the way of policies or models to work from, recovery personnel had to figure out how to set up communications in a rural area with sparse cell phone coverage or internet access, respectfully and privately recover crew remains, assess where they were most likely to find debris, protect the public from hazardous materials strewn over a vast area, and assemble debris in a way that would facilitate understanding of what happened to the shuttle on re-entry. That said, the profusion of agencies involved in the effort lost me at times; I found the descriptions of their reporting structure dry reading.

Even though I'm rating this book at 5 stars, I found the end of the book distasteful. Specifically, the final chapter, entitled "Celebrating 25,000 heroes" (overuse of the word 'hero' much?), took a jingoistic turn, repeatedly attributing volunteers' motivation to a dedication to their country, as opposed to a shared sense of humanity or a desire to honor the sacrifice made by the STS-107 crew. Even worse, though, is the colonialism expressed in retired astronaut Eileen Collins' epilogue: We still carry the spirit and adventure of those we read about in history, the Bible, the Greek plays, the discoveries of Columbus, and the exploration of the Americas. This passage especially stings in light of the significant contributions of Native American fire crews to the Columbia search and recovery effort. ...more
4

Jan 27, 2018

I am a total NASA nerd. Reading about the history of manned space flight is one of my passions, so I was really looking forward to this book’s release. I remember the day Columbia broke up vividly. And this book is really interesting, because it’s not about the launch, where Columbia was doomed, or what the astronauts did during their time in space, it’s fully about the recovery of the Columbia debris (and the great lengths taken to find the remains of her crew) and the effort to find out what I am a total NASA nerd. Reading about the history of manned space flight is one of my passions, so I was really looking forward to this book’s release. I remember the day Columbia broke up vividly. And this book is really interesting, because it’s not about the launch, where Columbia was doomed, or what the astronauts did during their time in space, it’s fully about the recovery of the Columbia debris (and the great lengths taken to find the remains of her crew) and the effort to find out what caused its break up. I genuinely enjoyed this book, but it could have been a great book, instead of just a good book. The authors obviously wanted to give credit where credit was due to the many people who participated in the recovery efforts, and so the book ended up being long on names but short on deep, personal stories. I’m glad this book was written - it’s a story that deserves to be recorded in history - but I wish it would have been told a little more elegantly. Still, I give it four stars, because I couldn’t put it down, and I learned a lot. ...more
5

Feb 06, 2018

Just LOVED this book.. Hats off to the authors for writing such an incredible book !
Must read for all space program lovers !!
3

July 24, 2018

Not as interesting as I hoped.
The author is being quite literal in the title. The book is really about the collection of the pieces of Columbia and returning them to gathering areas and ultimately back to Florida. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to the logistics, problems, and field conditions surrounding the wreckage collection. There is very little discussion regarding the foam damage during launch, the backroom political posturing, and the accident investigation. While wreckage collection maybe a worthy topic, if you are looking for more about the events leading up to the backup of the orbiter, you are going to have to look elsewhere.
0

Nov 06, 2019

Good story. A bit drawn out. Never more proud to be an American. Everything about this story says "American Exceptionalism" from the Shuttle program to the massive volunteer recovery effort.
5

Oct 16, 2018

I wasn't expecting this to be such an emotional reading experience, but it most definitely was. This tells the story of the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. But it tells way more than that. In this incredible book you really get to see just how amazing people are, the lengths that strangers will go to step up in the midst of a crisis, and the idea that the space program is America's space program and that it's important.

I remember when the Columbia broke apart on reentry. I watched a lot of I wasn't expecting this to be such an emotional reading experience, but it most definitely was. This tells the story of the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. But it tells way more than that. In this incredible book you really get to see just how amazing people are, the lengths that strangers will go to step up in the midst of a crisis, and the idea that the space program is America's space program and that it's important.

I remember when the Columbia broke apart on reentry. I watched a lot of the initial footage. But then I don't think I ever learned exactly what happened. It seems like the entire investigation was overshadowed by the beginning of the Iraqi war.

I was sad when the shuttle program ended, but I was so touched by the things I learned in this book that helped to insure that Columbia would not be the end of the shuttle program.

This is technical in places and there are a lot of people mentioned, from NASA officials, to astronauts, to FEMA, to random search volunteers in eastern Texas, but it all comes together in an incredibly powerful story about the importance of human life. ...more
2

May 5, 2019

Reverence for the dead....why not the Astronauts while living?
A detailed, sometimes overly so, description of the recovery of the Columbia and her crew. My primary challenge with this tale is the overt reverence for the remains of Columbia’s crew. Why revere and respect the dead when they should have been cared for while alive? The entire book reads as a giant apology to the lost crew without the actual apology. As if the author knows and feels the shame of the entire NASA organization but does their best to avoid acknowledging the monumental failures that led to the crews’s demise. Good on technical details, if you're into that.
3

November 5, 2018

Not the book it could have been
The one thing this book does successfully is convey the incredible, commitment and dedication of thousands of professionals and volunteers in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster. What it doesn't do is tell their stories well. Rather it reads like the effort of a bureaucrat at the agency responsible for the disaster. There's a much more nuanced story to tell and far more compelling and illuminating accounts of those long, stressful days in 2003. The author has an open hostility to the press, whose job it is to document and report on these non-secret events. However as a manager at the government body whose negligence and arrogance led to this tragedy, I guess it's understandable that he'd take a dim view of people getting to the truth of the matter and not just sitting by like lapdogs waiting for a bland press releases to come forth. There are good accounts of the Columbia recovery out there written by journalists that convey the heroism of the people who took part in moving and meaningful ways.
3

July 19, 2018

Finding pieces of the Columbia not finding the causes of the tragedy
The care that went into crafting this book is probably only exceeded by the care that went into recovering the pieces of the Columbia. That said, this book focuses almost exclusively on the recovery efforts and does not provide significant insight into either the causes of the failure or the people involved. To be sure, both people and causes are mentioned but the core focus of the book is documenting the efforts to recover pieces of the destroyed orbiter.

For a number of reasons, the Columbia disaster doesn't resonate with most Americans the way that the Challenger disaster does. Partly because the Challenger failed on live TV, partly because the Columbia loss was partially obscured by the run up to the Iraq war, and partly because it simply wasn't the first time brave astronauts lost their lives on a shuttle mission.

As a book documenting the efforts to recover the pieces of the broken shuttle scattered over thousands of square miles, this book is excellent. As a guide to the overall tragedy of Columbia, this book falls short. I would have preferred a longer book that dug deeply into the causes of failure.

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