Jay's Reviews > Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Shuttle and Her Crew

Bringing Columbia Home by Michael D. Leinbach
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it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, favorites

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.
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2018 – Started Reading
June 2, 2018 – Shelved
June 6, 2018 – Finished Reading
June 11, 2018 – Shelved as: audiobook
June 11, 2018 – Shelved as: favorites

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