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:

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
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 !!
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
5

Jun 11, 2018

A great story about what happened immediately after the Space Shuttle Columbia’s breakup while re-entering earth's atmosphere, from the actions of NASA, first responders throughout the country, federal, state, and local government officials, and citizen volunteers through the accident investigation. This is what I would call a “got their hands dirty” story – the work being described was mostly the hands-on, in the field variety, not so much the stuff happening back at the office. And by in the A great story about what happened immediately after the Space Shuttle Columbia’s breakup while re-entering earth's atmosphere, from the actions of NASA, first responders throughout the country, federal, state, and local government officials, and citizen volunteers through the accident investigation. This is what I would call a “got their hands dirty” story – the work being described was mostly the hands-on, in the field variety, not so much the stuff happening back at the office. And by in the field, you are literally talking about fields, and forests, and underbrush, and lakes that searchers had to traverse in their efforts to locate pieces of the shuttle, its contents, and its crew. The book culminates with the description of the warehouse used to hold the found pieces and to reconstruct the shuttle in order to determine what caused the critical failure of components. This process is also well described.

On the face of it, this doesn’t sound like there’s enough compelling material to make a book. There wasn't a lot of mystery about the failure that caused the accident to the shuttle in general. This book describes that issue, but there's more here. There were a few things that set this apart. First, this is about NASA. NASA has a kind of cachet, and for those like me who have grown up dreaming and studying about space flight, the astronauts and NASA employees are American heroes. The term “heroes” is overused, but to me NASA represents the American loner ideal, as well as the “can-do” attitude that Americans want to be known for. And NASA also embodies the ability to think things through smartly – another ideal. The books is interesting in that you get to see NASA react to this disaster, and from the book you understand that NASA accorded itself well. For example, within a day or so of the accident, astronauts were on site when human remains were found and collected, and provided a simple religious service incorporating the religions of all lost astronauts. I found this quick thinking, respectfulness, and sense of duty to set the tone for the rest of the book.

Another aspect of the book that I found enlightening and that provides some hope for our future is the way the various communities and organizations banded together to handle this mission. The physical search for artifacts was incredibly extensive. The search protocol required in effect a person to step over every square foot of land covering an area the size of Rhode Island. The land itself was in a remote area in Texas and Louisiana that was not heavily populated. Many volunteers and first responders from across the country were housed and fed in these communities during the search, which took a few months. The anecdotes and examples of communities pitching in and working together, despite the huge variety of entities involved, was heartening. The authors, NASA employees, were quick to point out the various times that there could have been an issue over who was in charge – was it NASA, the NTSB, the Defense Department, FEMA, local FBI, etc. etc.? In this case, there was no contention, many agencies deferred their normal “emergency” leadership. I suspect the lack of contention was not normal for different agencies working together, and here it seems the NASA folks were expecting contention but didn’t get it. To find this kind of feeling of “we’re all in this together” in the US you may have to go back to WWII. This ends up being another reminder that people can pull together when the situation requires it.

Overall, I found this an unexpectedly good book, exploring the state of readiness in our country to respond to a disaster, but from the human perspective, not a system perspective. I read this book a week ago, and I continue to think about the examples it provides. If American readers want a reminder of what America can do right, this book provides an answer. ...more
3

Feb 05, 2019

This was a very, very detailed account of the recovery efforts for the Columbia orbiter. So many names, places, and minutia that probably helped bring closure to people more directly involved. For an average reader or even someone with a mild interest in space, it was TOO detailed and could have been greatly shortened. The story it tells is important and 5 star worthy in itself, but the book was a bit tedious at times. I wish there was a little more personal background on the crew and the This was a very, very detailed account of the recovery efforts for the Columbia orbiter. So many names, places, and minutia that probably helped bring closure to people more directly involved. For an average reader or even someone with a mild interest in space, it was TOO detailed and could have been greatly shortened. The story it tells is important and 5 star worthy in itself, but the book was a bit tedious at times. I wish there was a little more personal background on the crew and the mission at the beginning.

A somewhat unrelated memo for myself to look back on - I chose to read this book after visiting the KSC and running a race at the Shuttle Landing Facility, just two days after the anniversary of the accident. I wish I had read it just before my visit, as I would have looked for the building used for the reassembly of the debris. I also somehow missed the display for the Challenger and Columbia at the Atlantis exhibit, although I did see the Apollo hatches. ...more
3

Nov 23, 2017

Unbiased review provided in exchange for an ARC from Edelweiss.


"Bringing Columbia Home" is a story about logistics and humanity. It seems a difficult mix, but it works: We start the book with the movement of Columbia through launch and her final moments upon return. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to the what came after--how, exactly, did NASA recover over 40% of the shuttle, with pieces smaller than nickels, and with such dedication to the privacy and dignity of those lost in the Unbiased review provided in exchange for an ARC from Edelweiss.


"Bringing Columbia Home" is a story about logistics and humanity. It seems a difficult mix, but it works: We start the book with the movement of Columbia through launch and her final moments upon return. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to the what came after--how, exactly, did NASA recover over 40% of the shuttle, with pieces smaller than nickels, and with such dedication to the privacy and dignity of those lost in the mission? The book is told from an insider's point of view and is extremely readable. While there are parts that read as a bit hokey (various miracles, people getting choked up, etc.), it's all obviously coming from a place of deep feeling, and one leaves the book very aware of the monumental effort it took to bring Columbia home. Overall, I'd put this at a 3.5 if I had the choice and I will say it is a very memorable read. ...more
5

Mar 20, 2019

The commemorative video's title says it all: Sixteen Minutes from Home.

On February 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia and her crew were on the way home with the plan to land at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Over Texas it disintegrated, leaving a trail of debris nearly 250 miles long from south of Dallas to just over the border with Louisiana.

The author, Michael Leinbach, was the launch director of NASA's space shuttle program. as well as a key leader in the search and recovery of the The commemorative video's title says it all: Sixteen Minutes from Home.

On February 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia and her crew were on the way home with the plan to land at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Over Texas it disintegrated, leaving a trail of debris nearly 250 miles long from south of Dallas to just over the border with Louisiana.

The author, Michael Leinbach, was the launch director of NASA's space shuttle program. as well as a key leader in the search and recovery of the debris and crew members. Even as the shock was shaking the NASA family to the core, they were working to determine where exactly Columbia had come down. Once that was determined, there were four priorities: Crew remains, collecting the wreckage, finding the OEX recorder, and keeping the public safe from hazards.

The story - intermixed with personal anecdotes regarding finds and people - show exactly how a search should be done: dignity, with compassion and competence. Of all the agencies that provided searchers - FEMA, U.S. Forest Service, NASA, firefighting crews from across the U.S., state police, National Guard - all cooperated and worked together. Businesses across the U.S. - no matter how large - asked 'what do you need?' and it was done.

But it was the locals who filled in many of the gaps - some searchers that were familiar with the terrain and area. People who organized the feeding of those hundreds of searchers be it from a plate a fried chicken from a woman of modest means to classes of school children making sandwiches. To a pastor who made sure that 'last rites' were said over the remains of each crew member as they were found.

On the other hand, the media was a horror. The divide between providing information to the world verses maintaining the respect for the crew, grieving family, friends and coworkers as well as the traumatized searchers on all levels.

In the end, 40% of the shuttle's 140,000 pounds was found but it was enough. The investigation into the disaster pointed to the cause being due to a piece of foam breaking away from a fuel tank and struck the leading edge of Columbia's left wing. The Southwest Research Institute had performed previous studies in the effects of impacts of ice, foam and insulation so they were the perfect company to perform the test shots. Taking a panel from another shuttle that had flown the same number of missions, a block of foam was fired with the speed of 500mph (difference between the foam and the accelerating shuttle). The impact blew a sixteen inch hole in panel. There was the cause - the hole which hot plasma tore into the wing, melting supports like a blowtorch and eventually destroyed the wing and the shuttle.

Unlike Challenger, Columbia is not buried in a missile silo on KSC grounds. Rather it is part of a remembrance area. Most of the debris is still packed up and behind locked doors but some items are available for viewing. Debris is still being found in Texas and mailed to NASA just as Challenger debris is still being found to this day.

Honestly, there were moments where I would get choked up by some of the candid, powerful moments. That in the end only nine people died in the disaster - the seven astronauts and two local men killed when their search helicopter crashed. If the Columbia broke up even a few minutes earlier, the debris would have fallen over Dallas and its suburbs which would have caused massive injuries and structural damage.

Surprisingly, the FBI offered an amnesty for people who had picked up wreckage and had not turned it into the government - the shuttle was government property so 'stealing or claiming souvenirs' was a federal offense. The surprising part was the few calls that NASA received asking if the moratorium also applied to Challenger material from seventeen years earlier. NASA said yes and several pieces were turned in.

If you are interested at all in the American space program, you need to read to read this. NASA's successes are tainted by the three disasters which are argumentatively due to complacency and striving to achieve goals. Administrators had changed the comment 'Prove to me that it's not safe to come home' to 'Prove to me that it IS safe to come home.' Columbia wasn't safe but there was no other way to bring the crew home. There was no way to repair the shuttle even if they were aware of the damage before returning home. Also, they didn't have enough supplies to survive long enough for another shuttle to get prepped and launched.

2019-045 ...more
4

Jul 19, 2018

I remember watching videos of space shuttle Columbia's destruction in high school. I also remembering wishing I knew that I could have looked up that morning and seen the shuttle fly over my hometown

This book's author, Michael Leinbach, was the head administrator for NASA's effort reconstruct the remains of the space shuttle and figure out what happened. The book focuses more on documenting how Columbia was recovered as opposed to what failures caused columbia to crash. And it's really I remember watching videos of space shuttle Columbia's destruction in high school. I also remembering wishing I knew that I could have looked up that morning and seen the shuttle fly over my hometown

This book's author, Michael Leinbach, was the head administrator for NASA's effort reconstruct the remains of the space shuttle and figure out what happened. The book focuses more on documenting how Columbia was recovered as opposed to what failures caused columbia to crash. And it's really fascinating. The shuttle pieces landed in very remote territory in Texas. But the searchers found form that eighty thousand pieces. Most of these were the size of a thumbnail. Then, during the reconstruction, the author and others really tried to address every possible means by which the shuttle could have crashed. They discarded a theory only when the evidence could disprove one. How methodical!

The author was an engineer and an administrator in a sprawling bureaucracy. As a result, the prose can be a little dry at times. But you can't deny how the author's first person intimacy with the topic enriches the details in the text. ...more
5

Jul 23, 2018

Some of my earliest memories are of Alan Shepard...John Glenn and the beginnings of our space program. And just like many others, I'll always remember where I was when I witnessed the loss of both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles. So I was very interested in what Michael Leinbach had to say about the recovery efforts of the Columbia, for me it was a must read.
I think it is a remarkable book, at times uplifting and inspiring but also bringing sadness and tears
Highly recommended.
5

Dec 28, 2018

I thought this was an excellent book that told of the heroic effort by the multi-agency team and numerous volunteers who labored to lay these astronauts to rest, discover the reason for the Columbia breakup, and to bring the shuttle fleet back to flight status. However, being a NASA employee, it was hard to read because of the emotional aspect of the story, even this many years later.
5

Jan 16, 2018

Before I start my review for "Bringing Columbia Home," I will share two facts: 1. Jonathan Ward (one of the authors) is a very dear friend of mine. 2. I, in general, do not care about the space program.

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 Before I start my review for "Bringing Columbia Home," I will share two facts: 1. Jonathan Ward (one of the authors) is a very dear friend of mine. 2. I, in general, do not care about the space program.

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! ...more
3

Oct 04, 2018

**Bringing Columbia Home** is the story of the aftermath of the break-up of the Columbia shuttle, told by *Michael D. Leinbach* who was a launch manager at NASA and bore responsibility during the collection of Columbia and the ensuing review. I didn't really like the book – the author gave me the feeling that the book was more written for the people involved in the clean-up missions, both volunteers and professionals, than for an interested outsider like me. Some chapters feel more like a long **Bringing Columbia Home** is the story of the aftermath of the break-up of the Columbia shuttle, told by *Michael D. Leinbach* who was a launch manager at NASA and bore responsibility during the collection of Columbia and the ensuing review. I didn't really like the book – the author gave me the feeling that the book was more written for the people involved in the clean-up missions, both volunteers and professionals, than for an interested outsider like me. Some chapters feel more like a long list of names and their roles, to include everybody who did important work at the time, which was certainly important to those people, but at the same time a bit tedious. A bit of stylistic editing would have helped a lot here. I also felt that quite some things I'd be interested in (e.g. the concrete organizational consequences to change NASA feedback culture) were glossed over way too much.

But since Mr Leinbach dropped a lot of tiny interesting pieces of information and stories, and the subject matter is obviously fascinating, and I'm a nerd for both space and logistics, I still got some good moments out of it. If you're similarly inclined, then I'd recommend the book, but otherwise you'll probably come to the conclusion that knowledge of and dedication to the subject does not replace professional editing advice. ...more
5

Dec 29, 2017

It was a big spacecraft that broke up over a huge area and required a massive recovery effort and thousands of people to figure out what happened. But this telling of the loss of Columbia and her crew, while going into great detail about the unprecedented land search and careful reconstruction effort, weaves a very human tale. Small gestures, little things, individual moments add up to an emotional account of finding pieces of the orbiter, respectfully recovering the remains of the crew and the It was a big spacecraft that broke up over a huge area and required a massive recovery effort and thousands of people to figure out what happened. But this telling of the loss of Columbia and her crew, while going into great detail about the unprecedented land search and careful reconstruction effort, weaves a very human tale. Small gestures, little things, individual moments add up to an emotional account of finding pieces of the orbiter, respectfully recovering the remains of the crew and the ever-present kindness of the residents of East Texas. Long, grueling days, selfless community support and an intense drive to get the job done pace the tale of the largest land search ever conducted in the U.S.

The painstaking reconstruction process at Kennedy Space Center, where the recovered parts were carefully examined and analyzed is shared from the point of view of co-author Leinbach, who led the effort. He had cleared Columbia for launch as Launch Director and is uniquely qualified to relate from up close the determined efforts of his team, who worked tirelessly while mourning the loss of astronauts they knew and an orbiter they'd worked on, some of them for up to two decades.

This story also serves as an example of diverse people and teams working together for a common cause, and agencies dropping boundaries and finding efficiencies - all in service to Columbia and her crew. Bringing Columbia Home is a wonderfully-told story about a tragedy that in the end reminds us again of the basic good of humanity, which is on display from start to finish in these pages. ...more
4

Jul 23, 2018

Fascinating, moving, impressive work

What work it took to figure out the problems with the flight, recover the astronauts, and the wreckage. The logistics were daunting. Really well done and interesting.
5

May 27, 2019

GREAT book about shutle.It has some cool new facts that a astronomy person (me) didn't know.
5

Jan 07, 2019

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Holy Bible, Joshua 1:9 – Passage read by Commander Rick Husband, just before the launch of Columbia in January 2003.

A bit dry in parts, especially with regards to some of the more technical aspects of this investigation, but still well worth this 5 star rating, as for me, reading this book was like watching a car accident – I felt compelled to “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Holy Bible, Joshua 1:9 – Passage read by Commander Rick Husband, just before the launch of Columbia in January 2003.

A bit dry in parts, especially with regards to some of the more technical aspects of this investigation, but still well worth this 5 star rating, as for me, reading this book was like watching a car accident – I felt compelled to keep reading to see how events unfolded.

Authors Michael Leinbach (the last launch director in the space shuttle program) and Jonathan Ward were meticulous in their telling about this important, albeit terrible period, in the history of our space program.

This book starts on the morning of February 1, 2003, at the moment the shuttle pulls out of orbit and heads for Earth – the path was to take the shuttle across the southern U.S. crossing over California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana … on its way to land in Florida. Unfortunately, Columbia aka STS-107 never made it. It came apart over 200,000 feet in the air (at the top of Earth’s atmosphere) and debris scattered over a 250 mile path in Southeast Texas and Louisiana.

This is not only a story of recovery and reconstruction, but one of how situations can be “resolved” when we all (in this case almost 25,000 people) work together towards a common goal – the recovery of Columbia and her crew and the reconstruction of as much of the shuttle as possible to discover what went wrong.

As with any project of this magnitude, it took a lot of organizations to work together to get the job done – As I read, I kept thinking these organizations, combined, represented a kind of alphabet soup, and I am eternally grateful that the authors included not only a list of interviewees (to keep all of the players and their affiliations straight), but a dictionary of Acronyms and Technical Terms, as well!

Some of the organizations that had a hand in this mission were: NASA, FEMA, FBI, EPA, U.S. Forestry Service, DPS – Department of Texas Safety, USA –United Space Alliance, KSC – Kennedy Space Center, JSC – Johnson Space Center, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NTSB, RRT – Rapid Response Team, IMT – Incident Management Team, MIT – Mishap Investigation Team, divers, from the Houston and Galveston Police Departments, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, and many more organizations, totaling more than 130, when all was said and done. These organizations were assisted by the good people of Southeast Texas, who went above and beyond to assist with the search, recovering the crew and pieces of the shuttle, as well as housing and feeding all of the volunteers, and more!

As mentioned earlier, the debris field was massive. At the end of the first week, the debris search area included 61 Texas counties, covering nearly 33,000 square miles, and affecting more than 7 million residents – ironically, nobody was injured during this period. Besides Texas, NASA had 3 search teams in California, as well as one each in Arizona and New Mexico.

On March 19th, the shuttle’s OEX recorder (akin to an airplane’s black box) was recovered. Coincidentally, search operations reached their halfway mark on this date with 257,000 acres searched to date and more than 43,000 pounds of shuttle material recovered, representing 20% of the shuttle’s weight. By March 24th, more than 10,270 firefighters and their support staff had worked the search operation.

The final stats of this, the largest land search-and-recovery operation in US history was staggering! Nearly 25,000 men and women searched 680,750 acres of land, in essence, walking every square foot of an area roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. Aircrews logged 5,000 flight hours and painstakingly searched 1.6 million acres, an area nearly 50% larger than the state of Delaware. Helicopter spotters located 65% of the 2,700 shuttle components that eventually ended up on the grid of the reconstruction hangar.

Search teams recovered nearly 84,000 pieces of Columbia, with a combined weight of 84,700 pounds.

Occasionally, comparisons were made between the Challenger incident (from January 1986) and that of Columbia – one of the most interesting facts is that pieces of wreckage from both disasters continue to turn up, to this day!

As for the crew, all remains were recovered (and not together). David Brown was the only unmarried astronaut on this crew, but he had dated Ann Miklos, an Engineer at NASA while he was training for this flight. Ironically, they had broken up just a couple of months before the shuttle launch, but remained close friends. On the flight, Dave took a watch (that had belonged to Ann) – the full history of this watch is weaved throughout this story. Through much red tape, she eventually was reunited with the watch – the leather band had been burned away during reentry, and the crystal had shattered, however, the face of the watch was intact. The hands had stopped @ 9:06 (EST) – either when the crew module broke up or the watch impacted the ground.

Several other watches had also been recovered, however, Miklos’ watch was the only one with the time of the accident preserved on its face, but his is not the end of this piece of history … You’ll have to read the book to learn more!

The results of the reconstruction were heartbreaking, as was the information that was shared in the chapter, “Preserving and Learning from Columbia.”

The costs for Columbia’s recovery, reconstruction, and investigation cost two lives (there was a helicopter accident that killed a pilot and spotter) – there’s an interesting story about these two that is included in the book, and $454 million (cost breakdowns are in the book).

Also, everyone operated without personal agendas. As stated [briefly] earlier, more than 130 groups and 300 volunteer groups worked TOGETHER on the recovery.

In the end, what did we really lose? Our shuttle program has been dormant since July 2011. The United States still sends astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) – Check out Scott Kelly’s book, “Endurance,” – but we have to hitch rides via a Russian Soyuz. For a nation that worked so hard to get ahead in the great space race, the U.S. has now fallen woefully behind.

From the investigation, they learned that there was no way to guarantee the safety of the people flying on the shuttle. So, we have to find a better way!

I sincerely believe that the astronauts (aboard Columbia) who gave their lives – Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Mike Anderson, Kalpana “KC” Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon – would not have wanted our space program to stall out (pun intended).



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4

Jun 09, 2019

This was a haunting read about the loss of the Columbia, the search and recovery of the bodies of the astronauts, and the search and recovery of the debris of the shuttle. It captured both the exhilaration of space flight and the loss that occurs when things go wrong, as well as how strong we are when we work together for a common goal.

I lived in Dallas when the Columbia was lost, and I actually knew some people who were storm chasers who were recruited to look for shuttle parts, though they This was a haunting read about the loss of the Columbia, the search and recovery of the bodies of the astronauts, and the search and recovery of the debris of the shuttle. It captured both the exhilaration of space flight and the loss that occurs when things go wrong, as well as how strong we are when we work together for a common goal.

I lived in Dallas when the Columbia was lost, and I actually knew some people who were storm chasers who were recruited to look for shuttle parts, though they didn't find any. Basically it felt like this happened in the neighborhood in my backyard, with locations I'm dimly familiar with that made it a bit more personal than reading about something like the Challenger might have been.

Written by Columbia's launch director, the book was thorough and detailed what happened when Columbia launched to the morning when they realized it would not be coming home. The search and recovery efforts were detailed in great lengths, and given that it could have easily been a tedious slug of what was found, the authors kept it interesting by focusing on the stories of the people who helped with the search. The factors that lead to Columbia's demise, including a culture at NASA that led to it, were explained, as well as steps that were taken to remedy the problems that were found.

There were a few questions I had. I respect the decision to leave as many details about the death of the astronauts out due to respect for the families, at the same time, all that was left out made reading the book a bit more anxiety producing for me, and I had to Google to get some peace of mind and felt a little bit more detail could have been given without compromising privacy. For one, I had assumed that between the explosion and the height from which the astronauts would have fallen there would have been little left to recover, yet the book seemed to imply that a good deal of their remains survived and were perhaps even identifiable without a DNA test, which was extremely disquieting to learn. The tiptoeing around what was found made it so I had to look it up, granted what little I could find did not give much peace of mind so perhaps it wouldn't have matter. The thing that did give me more peace of mind but was not so explicit in the book was that the astronauts were unconscious when they died and did not suffer, especially given that they were not instantly pulverized in an explosion like I had assumed they were and from what little description the book gave it indicated that the remains found had (naturally) been through a lot of trauma that would have been agonizing had they been conscious. There was a sentence about how they had lost consciousness, but I had to look up how depressurization would led to a loss of consciousness so quickly just to assure myself that they didn't suffer

The other thing that surprised me was how much of the shuttle had survived. While the book touched on an interview with someone who specialized in downed airplane debris who said to expect about 10% of the Columbia to survive, later Leinbach reported that about 40% of it survived. Yet the reason so much debris survived is never speculated on. Leinbach did indicate research was being done on this question, and I would have liked to have heard a bit about it.

Sadly, Leinbach does detail how the Columbia was likely doomed from the time it launched and that the two hypothetical rescue situations they could have done likely would not have worked. The likelihood of the astronauts surviving the mission was nil once the foam hit Columbia and damaged the left wing. While Leinbach acknowledges twice that they were lucky that the shuttle disintegrated over the sparsely populated East Texas and not 2-3 minutes earlier over Dallas, as someone who lived in Dallas at the time, I do wonder what plan they could have pursued that would have minimized risk to civilians on Earth. I fully support human space flight, yet a random person being killed by space debris is the type of thing that could have ended NASA and not just the shuttle program. Granted, what they would have done had they known that Columbia would not have survived the return trip is likely too grim to put to words.

This definitely expanded my knowledge, and affirms my belief that when we cut corners and ignore dissenting points of view tragedies occur, but when we pull our resources together and set egos aside human beings can also do incredible things. I would recommend this for anyone interested, with caution that it is also not for the faint of heart. I'm do tend to read about true crime and other grisly things and am not easily rattled, but the story about the recovery of the remains of the astronauts did shake me and kept me up awake at night. ...more
5

Nov 01, 2019

Wow.

I went into this book not knowing really anything about this, even though it happened in 2003 when I would've been in school and it should've been discussed (but then I was in public grade school so maybe not, it wasn't a really educational time there). But it was a very interesting book and amazingly well written, I cannot tell you how many times I had to pause in reading or I would've started crying. The personal moments that Leinbach covered are really some great examples of moments that Wow.

I went into this book not knowing really anything about this, even though it happened in 2003 when I would've been in school and it should've been discussed (but then I was in public grade school so maybe not, it wasn't a really educational time there). But it was a very interesting book and amazingly well written, I cannot tell you how many times I had to pause in reading or I would've started crying. The personal moments that Leinbach covered are really some great examples of moments that push humans through tragedies to look at the silver lining. And how amazing were the citizens of Texas? They pulled their communities together with NASA, FEMA, the FBI, US Forest Service, and various alphabet agencies as I call them to really make this an experience that, although really horrible, was bearable and done with respect. The people who volunteered made these astronauts their family, they searched hundreds of miles, through swamps, forests, brushes, with rain, sleet, snow, and tornadoes to find not only the astronauts themselves, but the pieces of the shuttle to find out what really happened and how to prevent it to future explorers. The various agencies were so well woven together and willing to work with one another that I was really impressed; this was literally one of those moments in history you wish our government worked like this all the time. The moments I enjoyed the most were how quickly and equally the people of these affected towns and the members of NASA became connected to each other. If a NASA employee tried to buy food your money was no good in town, if you needed something all you had to do was ask and it'd be there. And the people from NASA thought the world of these folks, everyone from the astronauts who were searching for their lost friends to the technicians who worked on the shuttle and now collected pieces of it, they formed a connection with someone from these towns that are remembered years later.

I won't go into too much detail because if you read this I want you to experience each moment, that's how good this book was. All I can say is if you read one book about space shuttle disasters or anything to do with the Columbia, read this book. You won't regret it. ...more
5

May 09, 2018

I really can't say enough good things about this book. I was an adult at the time of the Columbia disaster, and followed the investigation on the news, so I was familiar with the basics of the event and the conclusions of the investigators. This book, however, gives a deep and detailed view of the disaster, from pre-launch preparations to present day memorials, in a first-person account from a man who was front and center for much of it. Mr. Lienbach was the launch commander for Columbia's last I really can't say enough good things about this book. I was an adult at the time of the Columbia disaster, and followed the investigation on the news, so I was familiar with the basics of the event and the conclusions of the investigators. This book, however, gives a deep and detailed view of the disaster, from pre-launch preparations to present day memorials, in a first-person account from a man who was front and center for much of it. Mr. Lienbach was the launch commander for Columbia's last mission, and was deeply involved in debris recovery and reconstruction efforts, and the investigation into the causes. He knew the ship and its crew personally, and presents the story of the fall of Columbia (and, eventually, the shuttle program itself) with a deft blend of the factual and the emotional.

The first half of the book focuses heavily on the crew--their personalities and backgrounds, their mission training, the launch and mission, their sudden and violent deaths in re-entry, and the desperate search for their remains across a vast swath of east Texas. There is no gore to be found here; the author respects the crew too much to make a spectacle of their demise, and the worst you will find is a passing mention of "partial remains". But having spent half the book with the crew and their colleagues, I found they were very much present in my mind during the second half, which focused on the debris recovery and reconstruction and the investigation into the accident. This added a layer of pathos to even such factual descriptions as the following:

"Columbia...had been traveling in excess of Mach 18 at an altitude of over two hundred thousand feet when it disintegrated. Its wreckage was twisted, shredded, subjected to plasma, melted, oxidized, burned, and scattered over a 250-mile-long path. The vast majority of the debris that came back from Columbia was smaller than an office desk. Much of it was the size of a nickel."

If you have any interest at all in space exploration, accident investigation, and/or disaster recovery, I believe you will find this book a worthy and fulfilling read.
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4

Jan 27, 2019

I was in middle school when the shuttle disaster happened. I remember watching footage on TV that day. So I've always been interested in the story of what happened. I recently readHigh Calling by Evelyn Husband, and when searching for another book in Overdrive, I stumbled across this book and decided to check it out.

This book is the story of the search and recovery efforts that went on for months in Texas, the story of the reconstruction in Florida to determine the cause of the crash, and the I was in middle school when the shuttle disaster happened.  I remember watching footage on TV that day.  So I've always been interested in the story of what happened.  I recently read High Calling by Evelyn Husband, and when searching for another book in Overdrive, I stumbled across this book and decided to check it out.

This book is the story of the search and recovery efforts that went on for months in Texas, the story of the reconstruction in Florida to determine the cause of the crash, and the way NASA banded together and showed some true emotion at the loss of this shuttle.  While much of the book was very detailed to the point of boredom, the story overall was interesting. I knew the search and recovery efforts were intense, but I had no idea how many people searched and for how long.  It was great to see the best side of America when the small towns being inundated with searchers stepped up and cared for thousands of people doing the tough work of both grieving and searching.  

The anniversary of this disaster is coming up this week.  What crazy sacrifices they made (and the Apollo 1 crew and the Challenger crew) in the name of spaceflight and exploration.  It was also interesting to see that when the shuttle program was given an end date Orion was supposed to have flown by 2014 and by 2020, we should have been back on the moon.  Thanks to budget cuts, we are wayyyyy off that timeline - Orion has not yet flown at the beginning of 2019.

I would say there were more technical details than necessary, and lists of who was in charge of what specific tasks, but the overall story is a great one of how America and NASA banded together in the midst of terrible tragedy to heal and still bring forth new knowledge from the sacrifice made.  

I'll go 7 of 10 for enjoyment and 2.5 of 5 for readability.

For more reviews, check out bedroopedbookworms.wordpress.com! ...more
3

Mar 24, 2018

This book describes the effort that was undertaken to locate and recover the remains of the crew and the spacecraft Columbia STS-107 which broke up during reentry in 2003. It also details what happened to Columbia and the analysis that determined what happened.

Houston lost communications with Columbia at 8:59:32, about 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing in Florida. Forty-six seconds later, Columbia came apart 181,000 feet above Corsicana & Palistine, Texas going over 11,000 mph.

The This book describes the effort that was undertaken to locate and recover the remains of the crew and the spacecraft Columbia STS-107 which broke up during reentry in 2003. It also details what happened to Columbia and the analysis that determined what happened.

Houston lost communications with Columbia at 8:59:32, about 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing in Florida. Forty-six seconds later, Columbia came apart 181,000 feet above Corsicana & Palistine, Texas going over 11,000 mph.

The reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panel on the leading edge of the wings designed to withstand 3000 degrees F was hard but brittle. A piece of foam insulation weighing less than two pounds fell off of a fuel tank 81.7 seconds into the flight, 0.2 seconds later it struck the RCC panel on the left wing. The shuttle was traveling 1500 mph and accelerating; the foam decelerated due to air resistance to 1000 mph, thus 500 mph relative speed at time of the strike.

During the analysis of the Columbia disaster a test was conducted using a RCC panel from Atlantis that had flown 26 times. Shot at 500mph a piece of foam blew a hole 16” by 16” in the RCC panel and caused the T-seal between panel 8 & 9 to fail. In Columbia hot plasma got in and melted the wing from the inside out.

The proximal cause of the accident was the loss of hydraulic pressure after the plasma breached the left wing causing the control surfaces to stop responding to steering commands. Columbia went into a flat spin. The crew tried to save it in a period that lasted at most 30 seconds. The ship broke up due to aerodynamic forces starting with the left wing. A breach of the crew module caused depressurization rapidly, shortly after the body of the ship came apart. The crew lost consciousness almost immediately. They did not even have time to lower their helmet visors. ...more
4

Feb 10, 2019

Probably 25,000 Americans were involved in bringing Columbia home, constituting tHe largest ground search effort in US history. Most of this manpower enabled the parts recovery effort across East Texas, managed under the Incident Command System that was set up. The story of this effort makes up the majority of this book. I was most interested in, and affected by, the final third of the book, where NASA employees pulled the ~80,000 shuttle pieces together to figure out what went wrong, and what Probably 25,000 Americans were involved in bringing Columbia home, constituting tHe largest ground search effort in US history. Most of this manpower enabled the parts recovery effort across East Texas, managed under the Incident Command System that was set up. The story of this effort makes up the majority of this book. I was most interested in, and affected by, the final third of the book, where NASA employees pulled the ~80,000 shuttle pieces together to figure out what went wrong, and what could have been done to avoid this catastrophe again.

Beyond the loss of life on the mission, the aftermath was traumatic for hundreds of NASA employees, and the authors relate several wrenching moments.

Columbia was destroyed on descent, after the intense re-entry environment broke through some the shuttle's damaged thermal protection system. Its TPS had been damaged on ascent after some tank foam insulation broke off and hit the shuttle. This had been a problem on prior and later missions, and was proven to not be a manufacturing error, but instead a design flaw of the insulation.

Could Columbia's crews have been rescued? No. The next shuttle, Atlantis, would not have been ready in time before Columbia's consumables would have run out, and the Columbia's crew did not have the resources on-board to make the necessary repairs.

The shuttle program returned to flight 3 years later in 2006, and the remaining 3 shuttles flew 20 more missions before the program concluded in 2011. SpaceX is inheriting the mantle of US manned spaceflight - I think books like this ought to be required reading for all of us. ...more

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