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  Best book about loss of Challenger (STS-51L)?

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Author Topic:   Best book about loss of Challenger (STS-51L)?
dom
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Posts: 439
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Registered: Aug 2001

posted 12-30-2012 10:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to admit the only book I've read about the Challenger disaster is 1987's 'A Major Malfunction' — probably very dated by now!

I recently saw 'The Challenger Launch Decision' in a bookshop but to be frank it looked a little technical heavy, so can anyone recommend a good one that looks at the technical, political and social aspects of the accident?

ea757grrl
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Posts: 555
From: South Carolina
Registered: Jul 2006

posted 12-30-2012 11:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"The Challenger Launch Decision" is more an academic study about the decision-making process and the lessons to be learned from that. Since it's academically-oriented it's not easily accessible by the lay reader (heck, I'm an academic in my day job and I find it overwhelming in places). It's a great book, but not the one to go to if you want to read about the accident itself.

Allan MacDonald and James Hansen's "Truth, Lies and O-Rings" is one of the most recent books about the accident, and has been received favorably. It gives you a great view from the inside.

The books that came out within the first months or a year after the accident are a mixed bag, and sometimes had an agenda - I'm thinking in particular of Joseph Trento's "Prescription for Disaster," which was a highly critical examination of NASA and the politics behind it. Of the '80s-era books I sort of liked "Challenger: A Major Malfunction" even though it's kind of incomplete and was more an "in the moment" book.

One more book that deserves mention is "Challengers," a paperback produced by the Washington Post in 1986. It's brief biographies of each astronaut, along with the story of the 51-L mission itself. If you take it for what it is - a small book produced by a newspaper staff soon after the accident - it's actually not bad at all, and one I keep coming back to.

I keep hoping we'll see a few more books about Challenger. The people who were involved in the process, and who know the stories, are gradually leaving us, and there's a lot yet to be told, I know. I'd like to think someday we'll have *the* definitive Challenger book, telling this complex story from all available angles....

Philip
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Posts: 4803
From: Brussels, Belgium
Registered: Jan 2001

posted 12-30-2012 11:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If You really want the very best book, You'll need to find the 5 volumes/parts book of the Presidential Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

These were printed as blue NASA hardcovers and are hard to find.

Although part 1 contains all the photos and was available as a softcover.

Henry Heatherbank
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Posts: 146
From: Adelaide, South Australia
Registered: Apr 2005

posted 12-30-2012 08:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Henry Heatherbank     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For my part, "Prescription for Disaster" and " Challenger: A Major Malfunction" are both worth the effort, although they are not brilliant books.

Dianne Vaughan's "Challenger Launch Decision" is a very academic book about corporate decision making processes and governance. This is not for the faint-hearted, but it is worth reading. You'll feel like yoy have finished War & Peace by the end of it.

"Truth, Lies and O-Rings" is an excellent book, the contemporaneity of which will (IMHO) never be matched. Read the epilogue/acknowledgments section at the back first; that outlines the challenges McDonald faced in even getting the book published. In a nutshell, he was told that anything pitched above an 8th grade level would struggle to sell. This book is way, way , way ahead of the 8th grade, is very technical, and it assumes the reader (first) knows a lot about the managerial/administrative structure of the US space program and (second) the reader recalls the 51-L mission and aftermath.

This book is essentially a longer version of the various notes McDonald took before and after the Challenger incident, as a defence to anticipated personal and corporate litigation, so you need to understand that this affects the writing style and (in my opinion) some of the views expressed by McDonald in parts (perhaps understandably).

It is not so much a book about 51-L (or what the mission was meant to achieve) or the astronauts, but it is a fascinating insight into the management of the Shuttle program in the golden years of the program before and in the years after 51-L, up to reflight of the Shuttle system late in 1989.

You will need a long time to get through it, but when you are finished you will be really glad you did. Absolutely, you should get a copy.

Henry Heatherbank
Member

Posts: 146
From: Adelaide, South Australia
Registered: Apr 2005

posted 12-30-2012 08:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Henry Heatherbank     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another thought...

Randy Avera's "The Truth About Challenger" is an interesting book. Written by one of the Shuttle engineers, this is a good behind the scenes book covering a lot of the recovery effort and the mood at KSC before and after the Challenger incident.

The book is long winded, it meanders and it really could have done with the help of a professional editor, but it is still an interesting read. Copies can be hard to find though.

ea757grrl
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Posts: 555
From: South Carolina
Registered: Jul 2006

posted 12-30-2012 09:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To all this I'd add the Spacecraft Films set about Challenger is a most excellent companion to any and all of these books, and well worth the effort to seek out. Written words are valuable but sometimes there's no substitute for the audiovisual material, both from the accident and from the Commission's activities.

randy
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Posts: 1287
From: West Jordan, Utah USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 12-30-2012 10:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would recommend the book "Challenger The Final Voyage" by Richard S. Lewis. It's well written, goes into a lot of detail and has good illustrations.

dom
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Posts: 439
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Registered: Aug 2001

posted 12-31-2012 12:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the feedback! I started re-reading 'A Major Malfunction' last night and am surprised at how its journalistic reportage still stands-up.

That said I might hunt down some of the other recommendations mentioned above...

garymilgrom
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Posts: 1571
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 12-31-2012 01:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"Truth Lies and O-Rings" is the best, followed by "Challenger Launch Decision." I did find the last book repetitive - it could have been half as long with the same conclusions.

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