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Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir

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On 2/12/97, two Russian cosmonauts joined an American astronaut on board the only permanent manned space outpost, the 11-year-old Mir. It was to be a routine mission, the 4th of seven trips to Mir that NASA astronauts would take as dress rehearsals for the two countries' partnership in a new Intern'l Space Station they were building back on Earth. But there'd been bad omens: a Moscow psychic who predicted a mysterious disaster; a Russian doctor who warned that the crew was psychologically incompatible. Within two weeks the omens were borne out, as the three were suddenly forced to fight the worst fire in space history. This was only the beginning of what became the most dangerous mission in the 36-year history of manned space travel--a 6-month misadventure that would climax in the most harrowing accident faced in space since Apollo 13. In Dragonfly, bestselling author Burrough tells the story of how a joint Russian-American crew narrowly survived almost every trauma imaginable: fire, power blackouts, chemical leaks, docking failures, nail-biting spacewalks & constant mechanical breakdowns, all climaxing in a dramatic midspace collision that left all on board scrambling for their lives.
Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the cosmonauts, astronauts, ground controllers, psychologists & scientists involved, Dragonfly is the saga of a mission as fraught with political & bureaucratic intrigues as any DC potboiler. Using never-before-released internal NASA memoranda, flight logs & debriefings, Burrough portrays a US space program in which many astronauts refuse to raise safety concerns for fear they'll be frozen out of future missions. It offers an unprecedented look inside the rattletrap Russian space program, where the desperate thirst for hard currency leads to safety shortcuts as exhausted, puppetlike cosmonauts endure inhuman pressures from their unfeeling, all-powerful masters on the ground.
In Dragonfly, the American astronauts who journeyed to Mir speak out about the failings of the program, from the rigors of training at Russia's Star City military base to the slapdash experiments they were required to perform. Yet thru it all the men & women of the two space programs persevered, forging friendships that will serve them well as the two countries prepare for the 1st launches of the Intern'l Space Station in late 1998. Theirs is a story of a triumph over adversity, destined to be one of the most enduring & widely celebrated adventure stories of our time.

418 pages, Hardcover

First published January 16, 1997

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About the author

Bryan Burrough

13 books313 followers
Bryan Burrough joined Vanity Fair in August 1992 and has been a special correspondent for the magazine since January 1995. He has reported on a wide range of topics, including the events that led to the war in Iraq, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and the Anthony Pellicano case. His profile subjects have included Sumner Redstone, Larry Ellison, Mike Ovitz, and Ivan Boesky.

Prior to joining Vanity Fair, Burrough was an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal. In 1990, with Journal colleague John Heylar, he co-authored Barbarians at the Gate (HarperCollins), which was No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for 39 weeks. Burrough's oth­er books include Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmund Safra (HarperCollins, 1992), Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir (HarperCollins, 1998); and Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 (Penguin Press, 2004).

Burrough is a three-time winner of the John Hancock Award for excellence in financial journalism. He lives in Summit, New Jersey with his wife Marla and their two sons.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 47 reviews
Profile Image for Brahm.
483 reviews54 followers
December 30, 2021
This is one of the best space-nonfiction books out there. Wow.

Burrough chronicles the Shuttle-Mir program of the mid-1990s when, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Russia, the Bush (H.W.) and Clinton administrations maneuvered to collaborate with the Russians in space so their rocket scientists would have something to do other than selling rockets and weapons to developing countries.

While most people at NASA were focused on "Phase 2" - the development of the now-International Space Station (formerly the US "Freedom" Space Station) - a small group of astronauts, managers and bureaucrats were focused on "Phase 1", the Shuttle-Mir program, which was essentially a series of 7 US Shuttle flights to Russia's Mir space station. As part of this program, one US astronaut would stay on Mir for a ~4-month stay with two Russian cosmonauts and the two agencies would learn to collaborate together as they developed the ISS.

Shuttle-Mir was, in a word, insane. NASA essentially gave up all safety oversight on the Shuttle-Mir astronauts, plunging them into Russian-led training in Star City for a (purely) politically-motivated series of missions with no clear objectives, other than diplomacy. The whole program was slapdash: training requirements were unclear, there was mostly no trust between the Americans and the Russians, and the astronauts often had no idea what science they'd be performing in space until mere weeks before launch (for contrast, US missions typically have well over a year of highly specific training). This proves extremely difficult for many astronauts, who are all Type-A personalities, high achievers, and used to having the huge bureaucracy of NASA supporting them.

Once in space, life on Mir was chaos. The space station was 10 years old and literally falling apart; ethylene glycol was constantly leaking out of coolant pipes that were failing (due to dissimilar metals causing corrosion). Things didn't work and communication with NASA for the US astronauts was extremely limited and intermittent. At least one US astronaut, Jerry Linenger, had a near-breakdown in space and a total loss of confidence in NASA (for putting him in this position) after a serious fire broke out on the station. Later in Linenger's stay, a Progress cargo craft nearly struck the station after a manual docking test that Russia neglected to mention to NASA. After Linenger rotated off for Mike Foale, the Russians repeated the manual docking test, again not telling NASA and crazier still, with an exhausted Russian Mir commander at the controls for the manual docking test. This time the Progress craft struck Mir, causing an extraordinarily dangerous depressurization event - the first such even of human spaceflight. Despite protocols to evacuate and a rapidly diminishing air supply, the two Russian cosmonauts aboard slapped together a fix and "saved" the aging station. The rest of the mission was spent resurrecting Mir and working around the loss of a critical module (i.e. section of the space station).

Burrough spins a highly engaging, exiting, page-turner of a narrative. After reading many NASA-focused space books, it's been shocking and eye-opening to read about the Soviet/Russian space program (Korolev was quite good, and while Darkness at Dawn was not about space it was a fascinating account of the first decade of post-Soviet Russia). The cultural differences between the two countries/programs are clearly visible in the level of responsibility and autonomy given to astronauts/cosmonauts, the amount of risk accepted, and the ownership when things go wrong.

Two criticisms. At 500 pages, the book is quite long. Also, the book is out of order. As another reviewer points out, the format is:
Part 1: Early 1997
Part 2: Early 1990s until 1997
Part 3: Late 1997
This is clearly string-pulling by the editor/publisher to get some of the drama into the front of the book. Part 2 could have been shortened considerably and it would have been more readable had it been chronological.

Burrough is a superb writer and I'm looking forward to Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, which I'd queued from the library before realizing he was the same author. Also looking forward to learning more about the Soviet/Russian space program.
1,548 reviews26 followers
December 15, 2017
I spent a week, mesmerized, reading this book. I quoted from it to my family and colleagues. Indeed, at work, when I protested against a sloppy piece of work, I was heard to say : "This is even worse than NASA in 1997". I came back to it night after night, even sneaking a couple of pages during my lunch break, with the fascination of someone watching a trainwreck in motion.

Why ?

Well, I had a vague idea that at some point in the late 90s, there were some American astronauts spending some time on the Russian space station MIR, and it had seemed a nice example of post-Soviet collaboration, but I hadn't thought much about it one way or another. This book laid out the whole disastrous scenario in detail, and I read on and on, constantly thinking : "How is this possible?".

The first part of the book focuses on the first couple of Americans who spent time aboard MIR, especially Jerry Linenger, who had a pretty tough time of it. During his time on MIR, a fire broke out, and even though the crew eventually extinguished it, the wildly varying narratives of the event led him to believe that there was a vast conspiracy happening to convince NASA and the American public that the whole enterprise of having Americans perform scientific experiments aboard the ageing MIR was a good idea. In reality, as the second part of the book shows, the whole idea was born of political expediency. Boris Yeltsin was in DC to meet with G.W. Bush -but what was there to talk about? An old idea about international collaboration in space was quickly resuscitated, and before you could say "Challenger explosion", it was a done deal and NASA was left to figure out how to make it work. The enthusiasm within NASA for the so-called "Phase One" project was low, and the prospect of having to move to Star City, the Soviet training base near Moskow for months and months of training, did not really appeal to many astronauts, flight surgeons or ground controllers. Once the Americans arrived in the USSR, they were confronted with challenges and problems too numerous to count. The language problem, of course. The different engineering systems, computer systems, materials... all the technical aspects. But most of all, the secretive nature of the old Soviet-era engineers and bureaucrats, who did not exactly welcome this opportunity to share their know-how with their former arch-enemies. (The author, it must be said, does not seem very fond of Russians). The Americans spent months, years, trying to get basic information about what the astronauts might expect on MIR, only to be rebuffed by endless bureaucratic manoeuvers. On top of that, the entire philosophy of space flight was radically different between NASA and Energia, the post-Glasnost corporation that was the de facto owner of the Russian space program. Whereas the American system trained astronauts to figure things out independently once in space, the Russian system considered astronauts as little more than puppets, whose strings were pulled by the politically motivated employees at Ground Control.

And so things started to go wrong. Almost all American astronauts felt their role aboard MIR, where they were supposed to be doing scientific experiments with only minimal involvement in the space mission itself, put them in a position of inferiority to their two Russian counterparts, who, on their side, seem to have considered several of the American astronauts as whiny weaklings. When things went south, such as in the fire during Linenger's flight, NASA realized how little they really knew about the workings of MIR, and how poorly informed they were about unspooling events.

The third part of the book describes Mike Foale's time aboard MIR, a flight that was characterized first by a near miss, and then with a full-on collision between an unmanned supply ship and MIR. Once again, NASA felt kept out of the loop, and totally surprised by the stoicism with which the Russian space command viewed the possible death of 3 astronauts. A cultural, philosophical and political divide that no single person at NASA or in Russia could bridge.

In the end, there were several committees and reviews of the program. Was MIR safe enough for American astronauts? As we know, two more Americans spent time aboard MIR before it was decommissioned.

One of the things this book did was to de-glamorize the life of astronauts. A remarkable amount of time was spent mopping up the water that condensed in the space station, and packing and unpacking things. I guess that if objects don't stay put but float around freely, you have to spend a lot of time attaching them with straps and velcro. The other thing that struck me was how many things went wrong and needed repairs. Not just in the dramatic situations described in the book, but on a daily basis. Was that just because MIR was by then a pretty decrepit contraption, or is that what people do in space? There are so many cables to be connected and disconnected, so many hatches to close or open.... And two hours a day on the treadmill to combat zero-gravity induced muscle and bone loss!

A fascinating story about bad decisions, poor communications, and temperamental people in difficult situations !
Profile Image for DW.
492 reviews5 followers
May 11, 2012
I only read this book because my coworker/kinda boss lent it to me ... but it's still a good book, very readable. About a lot of it is about the horrendously screwed up politics of NASA, which makes me wonder why I work there. But there is also the completely awesome story of the unmanned Progress colliding with Mir and banging a hole in it, and the crew having to seal off the module and then stop the disabled station from spinning by using the thrusters on their Soyuz escape pod. The plot could be straight out of a Star Trek episode, except it's real ... *and* I've talked to the hero of the story, astronaut Mike Foale, on a conference call ... which is why I work at NASA.

The book also covered the flaws of the Russian space program (blaming the cosmonauts for everything that went wrong instead of looking for the truth, having a cosmonaut bonus system that discouraged open communication about safety issues), which I had read about in Jerry Linenger's Off the Planet. I find it odd that the book focuses so heavily on Linenger's and Foale's time on Mir, and glosses over Thagard, Blaha, and especially Lucid's missions ... and then sticks Wolfe in the epilogue. I suppose the author wanted to highlight the most eventful increments.
16 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2017
Wow, the close calls that happened on Mir are just jaw-dropping. Fire, spaceship crash, decompression, power loss, just to name the big ones. Some of the other disasters are slower, due to an aging space station, and terrible politics. The Shuttle-Mir program sent American visitors to the Russian Mir space station from 1994 to 1998. This detailed account is at times nerve-wracking; if I didn't know everybody survives in the end, it have been hard to read.

The politics, bureaucracy, and miscommunication can be both fascinating and frustrating. As the first major collaboration between Russia and the United States in space, many mistakes were made in the Shuttle-Mir program, and many lessons were learned. Dragonfly depicts the interaction between these cultures, giving both the Russian and American perspectives. Burrough is critical of both, but also fair. He interviewed almost all of the major players himself.

This book was written not long after the events it depicts, near the end of Mir's life in 1999. You can see this as a good or a bad thing. I found it interesting to read about the "future" International Space Station, and his predictions about it. On the other hand, I'm sure a lot has changed since 1999. Have there been any new revelations since about what happened on Mir?

There is one confusing thing about the book's organization. It comes in 3 parts that are out of order chronologically. Part 1 starts in the middle of the program, then Part 2 jumps to the beginning of the program, and Part 3 picks up where Part 1 left off. This order makes it difficult to keep the timeline straight in your head. This was probably done because Part 2 covers the political origins of Shuttle-Mir, which doesn't capture the reader's attention like, for example, a fire in space.
Profile Image for LeastTorque.
725 reviews10 followers
February 24, 2022
This book is a detailed inside account of working through and around and learning from human flaws to succeed in space. Bureaucracy, personality, and culture all clash to produce crises in the least forgiving habitat, yet everyone lives to tell the tale.

Amazing research, good writing, balanced portrayal, with my only gripe being some of the organization.

So heartbreaking to finish this book as Russia invades Ukraine. The epilogue speaks of the movement towards a Western-style democracy with the shaky Yeltsin still at the helm and towards a unified space with Russian-American cooperation. Yet here we are.
Profile Image for Devyn.
619 reviews
September 27, 2018
My favorite thing about this book is how the author, Bryan Burrough, neutrally follows both sides of the story and doesn't add any personal opinions. In this way, the reader is left to make his / her own judgments on the matter.
Dragonfly leaves no stone unturned in relation to the Shuttle–Mir program and covers everything a reader could ever want to know about MIR.
Profile Image for Christopher.
171 reviews36 followers
April 23, 2015
This is one of the best space histories I've ever read, although it has one major flaw.

I read it first in 2000 and began reading it again last year but had to abandon it for other priorities.

Dragonfly is about the so-called 'Phase One' program to put American astronauts aboard the Russian space station Mir for missions in the mid 1990s.

Phase One was a result of the Clinton administration's decision to transform the American space station Freedom from a national project to an international, cooperative effort, which resulted in the International Space Station. Phase One was literally the first phase of that plan. It became a good opportunity for American astronauts to build experience aboard a space station for the first time since Skylab. It was also a chance to build a post-cold-war partnership with Russia that we would need as the international effort gained momentum.

This program was hopeful but very dysfunctional. NASA astronauts were sent to Russia for months-long training without much support, and sometimes without any support. Add to that the well portrayed, often deeply flawed characters--astronauts Norman Thagard, Bonnie Dunbar, John Blaha, Michael Foale, Shannon Lucid and Jerry Linenger; NASA officials Daniel Goldin, Frank Culbertson and George Abbey; and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Lazutkin and Vasily Tsibliyev.

The missions were at times quite dramatic. Linenger was on board when an oxygen cartridge caught fire on Feb 23, 1997, and according to Linenger's account, the fire raged for at least fourteen minutes. Six weeks later, a docking attempt of a Progress resupply flight went awry, resulting in a near-collision with the station. Then, just two months after that, following Linenger's replacement by Michael Foale, another Progress docking attempt failed. The Progress crashed into the station, damaging a solar array and puncturing the Spektr module. The crew was forced to close off the Spektr module to save their lives. Those are just a few of the eventful things that happened during a trying year for the crews of the space station Mir.

Burrough faithfully reconstructs on-board dialogue from existing flight transcripts, and he interviewed many of the key players of the program. Burrough's writing is balanced. He allows the drama to play out naturally and doesn't fall back on commentary to spice up the writing.

JSC director George Abbey is portrayed as a Machiavellian leader; Thagard is surly and resentful of Bonnie Dunbar's presence while they train in Russia; Linenger is petulant and laser-focused on getting his experiments done while his Russian crewmates work on repairs like plumbers; and Shannon Lucid emerges as a highly independent, adaptable role model figure. Burrough sugar-coats none of this, and all these portrayals read as genuine.

The Phase One program was an example of how not to put together an international partnership in space, although what it did was teach those involved how to improve those relations for the benefit of today's International Space Station program.

The only fundamental flaw of the book is that the sequence of events is presented out of order. The book's sections appear in this order:

Part 1: Early 1997
Part 2: Early 1990s until 1997
Part 3: Late 1997

Crazy, right?

I can only presume the publisher asked Burrough to arrange the book this way so the reader gets some of the juicy stuff from the early part of 1997 at the outset of the book. Grab the reader early, as they say.

But it makes no sense as you begin reading Part 2, which explains the project's beginnings up to the events of Part 1. It's completely ass-backwards, so as I was reading Part 2, over and over I thought to myself, 'Why am I reading this now?!' Part 1 already puts us hip-deep in the troubles of the program and aboard Mir. Why even bother giving us the preamble in the middle of the book?

So, if you haven't read this book yet, read Part 2 first, then Part 1, then Part 3. It will make a lot more sense to you that way.

I previously gave this book five stars, but I cannot in good conscience rate it 5/5, because the book's backwards arrangement derails its narrative logic. Read it in chronological order, and it's a 5/5, I'll put it that way.

That one big drawback aside . . . I've read a great number of books about space history, and I do not hesitate to call Dragonfly one of the best books to emerge in the genre in the last thirty years. Space history needs more of this kind of reporting. A lot more.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
176 reviews233 followers
July 26, 2007
I felt like I had gone to see some galloping adventure flick after I finished this book. I learned a lot about the Russian space program, and the "Master-Slave" mentality that pervades it. It was fascinating to read about the American astronauts, and how they fit in (or didn't) during their long stays on Mir - how the adaptable ones got by and forged a strong bond with their cosmonaut counterparts, and how the rigid ones "failed to thrive". The explosion on Mir is so well-described that I felt I was there, and stress that the two cosmonauts and the US astronaut were under after that disaster put my stomach in knots. Great, suspenseful, and informative read.
Profile Image for Clay Davis.
Author 4 books120 followers
November 6, 2012
A great book filled with a lot of information. I learned a lot about the Russian and American space programs and their culture.
Profile Image for Nigel McFarlane.
213 reviews
May 1, 2019
This is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of human spaceflight: it is the story of the almost-forgotten NASA missions to the ageing Russian space station Mir and the 7 US astronauts who lived on board.

The book is a damning account of both the Russian and US space programmes: Russian management was inflexible, incompetent and secretive, prone to taking jaw-dropping risks with health and safety, and given to blaming their hapless cosmonauts when things went wrong; the NASA management, for its part, abandoned its astronauts, closed its political ears to safety concerns, and continued sending people to a space-station that they knew was falling apart.

The first quarter of the book is slightly confusing and heavy-going because it jumps about a lot in chronological order. A simple timeline of Mir crew members would have been helpful. However, as soon as the US astronaut Jerry Linenger arrives on board, it becomes a white knuckle ride. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Just a quarter of the way through, the reader will be thinking: if the Fire is happening here, what's the rest of this book about..? But this is not the climax - oh no - it's just the start of a relentless catalogue of failures, accidents and terrifying space-walks that keep you gasping to the end.

The book ends in 1998. The Mir missions are over and the International Space Station is about to be constructed. Though there is some foreboding over how the new ISS will avoid the same equipment and management failures, there is also hope that the Mir-NASA programme might one day be remembered as a first step in a great era of international cooperation.
222 reviews1 follower
March 13, 2019
This Book was nothing short of Amazing. The Wow factor is unbelievable and the chronicle of the close calls that happened on Mir are mesmerizing. From incompatibility of crew members, fire, spaceship crash, decompression, power loss, and all of the in the moment panic, reaction and repairs, at times just to stay alive are heart stopping; and nerve-wracking. You cannot at times stop reading and and you can experience the panic yourself.

In a lot of ways the problems are due to the space station ageing and one can understand that keeping it going no matter what the cost is of extreme pride to the Russians. After all they were the first to actually get an operable space station above the earth, and were and should be proud of that achievement. Many of the problems are fraught with terrible politics. The Shuttle-Mir program sent American visitors to the Russian Mir space station between 1994 to 1998. This detailed account is at times if I didn't know everybody survives in the end, it have been hard to read.

Mir has long since burned up in the atmosphere after the Russians could no longer maintain it. However the book outlines the Mir program and covers everything you want to know about MIR.
Profile Image for Nikky.
182 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2020
Burrough's book is a very workable (and rare) overview of the Shuttle-Mir program that allowed the Americans and Russians start exploring how they can work together in order to make the ISS a reality. The nexus of this project was Mir, an aging Soviet-era space station. This book explores daily live aboard the station, frustrations of Americans training at Star City, the cash-strapped Russian space program, and the personalities of the astronauts and support staff who struggled to make this all work. It's a revealing and insightful book on how the Soviet Salyut programme must have operated and how the Russians approach spaceflight in a very different manner than the Americans.

There are a few quibbles about Dragonfly: the first quarter of the book quickly cycles through introducing a lot of personalities in the program without fully tying them together, and other than a few paragraph tour of Mir, there's no real exploration into how all the modules and systems worked. A larger introduction to the station in one concise place would have been helpful to more fully understand (and trace) the action aboard the station.
Profile Image for Dacy Briggs.
154 reviews2 followers
April 10, 2023
This was recommended to me by my Primary Care Physician after me walking in his waiting room and seeing all of his space memorabilia strung about…glad I took him up on it.

Bryan Burrough always brings the goods in a detailed non-fiction story that gets your pulse pounding and your brain thinking. The failures of Mir and the geopolitical intrigue of the rivalry between the US and Russia are on display here, even after the Space Race had ended 20 years prior and the Soviet Union collapsing a mere few years before this. It is amazing that the International Space Station has been so safe considering the failures of Mir. In teaching students, many were disappointed that the ISS was nearing the end of its life soon but after reading this book, I totally understand that you don’t want to take any chances in space.
Profile Image for Matt Hughes.
14 reviews4 followers
August 10, 2019
This is a truly gripping read of the incredible situations that happened on MIR in the late ’90s. Exceptionally well written, you do get the sense that you are experiencing these disasters aboard the station with the cosmonauts and astronauts. The book covers the, sometimes surprising, astronauts and cosmonauts selected to fly, the system failures of computer problems and coolant leaks, the fire, the near-miss, and the collision and depressurization, as well as the dangerous spacewalks, both in and out if the station, that had to be undertaken. We also see the story from the perspective of the Russian mission control room, NASA managers and much more.

If you're interested in human spaceflight or the history of space stations this is absolutely a must-read!
Profile Image for Tim Brady.
123 reviews1 follower
March 5, 2019
Lots of very interested information and very detailed. A lot to get through. This was obviously thoroughly researched and well put together, so for some it would be 4-5 stars. For me personally, I was hoping for more focus on the "action" rather than a dive into so much of the politics. The background of the people and politics is a major part of the book, and I would say that makes it for me just "OK". A fine read, and an important book about the history of space exploration and bringing different countries and governments together.
4 reviews
October 8, 2019
Eine neue Sicht auf die Raumfahrt. Weniger auf Heldentum, mehr auf individuelle Schwächen. Aber: auch eine sehr amerikanische Sicht: "den Russen ist das Leben der Astronauten weniger wichtig". Die Geschichte hat gezeigt: das ist Unsinn.
Profile Image for Allen Allnoch.
12 reviews2 followers
April 10, 2021
Detailed history of the Mir space program mixed with riveting narrative of one near-disaster after another. The excitement of those in-flight misadventures made Burrough’s account move much faster than a 500-page-plus hardback typically would for me.
Profile Image for Richard Agemo.
Author 3 books1 follower
December 23, 2017
A fascinating -- and often hair-raising -- story of clashing American and Russian cultures as the U.S. and the former Soviet Union attempt to merge their space station programs during the 1990's.
Profile Image for Wolf.
77 reviews3 followers
July 14, 2020
Amazing, but for the title! It should've been called "I'm sorry, Vasily. Be quiet, Jerry. Thank you, Sasha!" Or "It's a MIR-acle no one died".
Profile Image for Siby.
73 reviews20 followers
November 3, 2012
Bryan Burrough is one of the coauthors of “Barbarians at the Gate”, the story of RJR Nabisco, and has done an excellent job chronicling the joint “Phase I” space collaboration program between the Russians and the Americans on board Mir, the aging Russian space station. This was the first time that the two nations were collaborating on the something as big as their space programs and they brought in a lot of baggage from the cold war and from their respective cultures and attitudes.
The Phase-I program for sending American astronauts to space was hastily put together for political reasons and was meant to be a preparatory exercise before the joint development of the International Space Station (ISS). This program was plagued with problems from the very beginning with communication gaps between the two coordinating agencies, management blunders and culture differences between the astronauts and cosmonauts. It progressively worsened to accidents it space, leading up to life threatening incidents like a fire on board the station and the collision of a supply ship which almost led to the abandonment of the station and the joint Russian-American program. Somehow, the two agencies were able to arrive at a working solution and salvage the station, thanks in no small measure due to the presence of mind of the cosmonauts, who were later sold down the river by the agencies.
Bryan Burrough has provided a very fair and critical assessment of the events leading up to the accidents and deficiencies on NASA and the Russian ground staff and management. This did not turn out to be a Russia bashing account of events by an American author and I was very pleasantly surprised with the research and background work that Burrough has so obviously put into writing this book. I enjoyed reading it.
Profile Image for Michael.
59 reviews
January 5, 2014
A nearly forgotten footnote in the history of the space program is a series of joint missions where US astronauts spent months living on the post-Soviet Russian Mir space station as practice and prelude to the International Space Station.

Dragonfly by Bryan Burrough chronicles the calamities that afflicted those missions. First of all, by all accounts the Mir station was dump held together by baling wire and sheer persistence. Also, the Russian space program was this weirdly dysfunctional system where the real power was hidden and the cosmonauts had odd economic incentives governing their activities.

On one mission, a major fire nearly kills everyone on board only to be stunningly covered up by the Russians and ignored by the press. But the centerpiece of the book is about the incident where a runaway supply capsule cripples the station and punctures the skin of the vessel. By all rights, except for some heroic action, everyone on the station could have been killed.

On the heels of the movie Gravity, this book which was written well over a decade ago describes in eye-opening detail just how dangerous space travel is and that fiction can rarely hold a candle to reality.
19 reviews2 followers
April 13, 2011
Do you want to go to space but are having trouble coming up with the $200,000 that it would take to get you there? Reading Bryan Burrough’s, Dragonfly: NASA And The Crisis Aboard Mir may be the next best thing!

Once I started reading Dragonfly I could not put it down. Burrough’s ability to describe and explain life aboard the Mir space station in great visual detail as well as portray the personalities and interactions of the astronauts made it feel like I was actually there. Dragonfly provides a perspective on the technical and cultural intertwining of the Russian and American space agencies.

Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of three books. visit the Simon & Schuster publishing page to learn more about Bryan Burrough:

Profile Image for Royce Ratterman.
Author 14 books21 followers
October 28, 2019
From the politics of astronaut/cosmonaut training and the selection of mission crews, to the personal tensions and psychological idiosyncrasies of the space travelers themselves, this book moved at a good pace for the most part.
Though a slightly different account, actually more detailed, than NASA Astronaut Jerry Linenger related in his book "Letters from MIR" (written letters to his son) this tale is captivating, though many of the 'technical facts' may need to be corrected and/or verified.
No spoilers here...
Read for personal research. I found this work of immense interest.
This work is one of my resource sources for my ghost authoring for E.MH Ratterman.
I found this book's contents helpful and inspiring - number rating relates to the book's contribution to my needs.
Overall, this work is also a good resource for the researcher and enthusiast.
Profile Image for Jake.
509 reviews39 followers
November 10, 2009
I did this one on tape for a road trip. Thanks mostly to Russia, we've had an almost continuous human presence in space for many years. Everybody knows about the Neil Armstrongs and the disasters. This book shares many other stories that never became headlines. It centers around a fire that happened aboard Mir.

Equally interesting to me, Dragonfly provides an insider look into contemporary astronaut/kosmonaut culture. This includes an American astronaut who gets so fed up with the folks at Mission Control he starts ignoring them. I was a space enthusiast before I read this book. I remain a space enthusiast. This is a book about what it means to live in space, not just visit.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
153 reviews13 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
October 3, 2011
I love space stuff. This true-life tale is even more interesting because the main character is Jerry Linenger, Michigan native and current Suttons Bay resident. So far the book is painting him as quite the jerk. I ended up giving up on this book. I slogged through the beginning U.S.-Russian history lessons and the mostly dry agency politics to finally get to the good part - drama on the space station! Loved it, but then the author switched back to more lessons on U.S.-Russian relations and I just couldn't go through more of it.
Profile Image for Dennis Boccippio.
105 reviews18 followers
May 31, 2014
Well researched, maybe not as well written. The story is told well and with depth, although there are some minor irritations such as overuse of not-so-subtle foreshadowing of the "crises" throughout the first half of the book. Burrough's book is not overly kind on the Russian or American astronaut corps, NASA's politicos (whether appointed or self-anointed), or either agency's version of MOD ... but nor is it likely unfair.

Overall, I'd say worth the read to catch up on an overlooked chapter in human space exploration.
Profile Image for M.H. Tardiff.
Author 11 books1 follower
May 23, 2012
This book gives a great deal of insight into the workings and failings of both NASA and Star City. The scenes detailed on the Mir are written in an engaging style that's every bit as exciting as a good piece of science fiction, only it's not fiction. The details of Mir life are fascinating, from the interaction of the two crews (Russian and their American guests) to the little known facts such as the secondary toilet installed beside the dining table (!)

If you like stuff about the space program, you'll like this book.
September 9, 2013

I have had this book for a while. It came out it is about the NASA's mission to perform science experiments on MIR as a guest of the Russians. It is explains how and why this was politically motivated, interfaces with NASA and Congress, how the mission was dumped on NASA without adequate planning time or input from NASA. Mostly it explains the difference in the astronaut/cosmonaut cultures, reporting structures, and approach to maintenance and repairs. And lastly how this had to succeed or the international space station would not be funded.

Profile Image for Amanda.
210 reviews3 followers
February 24, 2013
The topic was interesting, but I think the book could have been better written. It took me forever to force myself through the book and I'm glad to be done with it. You want an amazing book about NASA? Check out Riding Rockets, by Mike Mullane (former astronaut, and therefore actually knows what he's talking about, aside from being a great writer).
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