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Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program Hardcover – October 21, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many Americans' only memories of their country's excursions into space are of the space shuttle program, inaugurated with the launch of Columbia in 1981. Twenty-two years later, Columbia's disintegration over the Southwest played a major role in the decision to end the program. NPR journalist Duggins reviews the 25-year saga of the shuttle missions, some of which have been shrouded in mystery, as astronauts took secret military payloads into space; others received worldwide attention and acclaim, as when the Hubble Space Telescope was restored to 20–20 vision. The author repeats the oft-made charge that the shuttle is a space vehicle in search of a true mission. Too often shuttle administrators have settled for running a billion-dollar short-distance trucking service to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. The book's first chapter is a look forward at what NASA plans for the next quarter century, but this misplaced preview delays launch of the main story. Readers also might wish Duggins had shared more of his reporter's experiences in covering the shuttle program. Nevertheless, this history is a worthy addition to the recent torrent of books about the American space program. Illus. (Oct. 21)
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From Booklist

Surveying the history of the space shuttle, Duggins delivers descriptions of the system amid explanations of the aims of human spaceflight. Knowledgeable on the subject as NPR's space-shuttle reporter, Duggins relates the technological and financial compromises that resulted in the final design of the shuttle launch configuration, which is far different from NASA's original blueprint. Nevertheless, it was the ticket to space, and Duggins' original narrative elements portray the experiences of several shuttle crew members in applying to become astronauts and recounts their subsequent missions. For backdrop to these human-interest stories, Duggins constructs the arc of shuttle history, including the Challenger and Columbia catastrophes, of course, but emphasizing the shuttle's chronic problems of costliness and of the search for an inspiring purpose. After assembling the International Space Station, the shuttle was retired, leaving NASA shooting for the moon again with proposed successor spacecraft depicted in image and word. With its history and status-report aspects, his informed report will engage readers concerned with the space program. Taylor, Gilbert
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1st edition (October 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081303146X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813031460
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,078,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pat Duggins is News Director at Alabama Public Radio, and the author of two books about the space program, "Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program," and "Trailblazing Mars: NASA's Next Giant Leap," both published by University Press of Florida.

Duggins is known as the "voice" of NASA coverage on National Public Radio, providing coverage of 102 Space Shuttle missions, as well as flights by Russia, China, and other nations. This includes three hours of "live" radio coverage during Weekend Edition with Scott Simon following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. This was Duggins' second Shuttle disaster, having covered the Challenger accident in 1986.

Since the publication of "Final Countdown," he has spoken about the world's space efforts at Harvard University, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and on C-Span's BookTV.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By matt8386 VINE VOICE on April 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be a space junkie or nerd to enjoy this book. It's a great blend of the technical side of the Space Shuttle and the people behind the scenes making it happen. The history of how the Shuttle came about, the design choices, capabilities and limitations are all told here. The biggest challenge faced by NASA was finding a mission for the Shuttle that would capture the imagination & interest of Americans. In a twist of irony, the Shuttle's routine launches led to complacency with Americans. Indeed, as one Apollo astronaut observed, NASA was surprised when Apollo worked and Americans were surprised when the Shuttle did not.

Before the Apollo manned missions to moon ended, work began on designing a reusable space craft. This book does not attempt to cover every single mission, but does hit the special ones and of course, the tragedies of the Challenger and Columbia. Author Pat Duggins is not a scientist, but a news analyst for a public broadcast station in FL, so he can relay these stories in an easy, accessible way that is very enjoyable. He presents an honest appraisal of NASA, the problems and successes they've had over the years.

Final Countdown is more than just the history of the Shuttle. It is also about what happens next in the space program- perhaps more importantly, what is not happening now. Budget cuts are bad enough, but lack of a mission to generate public support is the real problem. I've always been interested in the Apollo Program; I was nine when we landed on the moon. This book catches the reader up on what happened in the 1980's and 90's, since many, like myself, did not pay attention. I'd recommend this to anyone who has interest in the Shuttle, NASA, and space exploration.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Hobson on January 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Final Countdown is a great book about NASA's plans for the future of space travel and their intentions of ending the Space Shuttle program. This book explains how the Space Shuttle program evolved along with it's success and tragedies. Author Pat Duggins wrote this book in a way to where it is not only entertaining but educational as well. A nice addition to a space travel book collection!
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Format: Hardcover
Pat Duggins is one of the most respected journalists currently covering NASA's human spaceflight program, offering insightful analysis of the subject for National Public Radio from his base at WMFE-FM in Orlando, Florida. "Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program" is a combined valentine/criticism of the Space Shuttle program that has operated from the Kennedy Space Center since 1981. It takes as its entrée the decision made in the aftermath of the Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, to retire the fleet by 2010 and to develop a new human spaceflight vehicle, the Orion capsule powered to orbit by the Ares I booster, to replace it.

While Duggins's concerns are very present tense, concentrating on the demise of the Space Shuttle program and its replacement, he also travels back in time to relate the history of the shuttle from its approval in the aftermath of NASA's hugely successful Apollo Moon landing program. He takes a highly anecdotal approach to relating this story, relating in journalistic fashion episodes in the history of the shuttle--some uncovered in his reporting on the program over the years--that illuminate its evolution. Mostly this is a straightforward narrative, told in an engaging style, with lavish personal tales to punctuate it. While entertaining, there is little in this book the members of the aerospace community will not already be at least somewhat cognizant.

As Duggins reports, the Space Shuttle was intended to make spaceflight routine, safe, and relatively inexpensive. Although NASA considered a variety of configurations, some of them quite exotic, it settled on a stage-and-one-half partially reusable vehicle with an approved development price tag of $5.15 billion.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Howard on December 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Final Countdown is an excellent book for Baby Boomers who grew up watching the massive Saturn 5 rockets of the Apollo program lumber off the launch pad and dreamed, one day, of drinking Tang on the Moon or taking a Space vacation. Final Countdown is an excellent book for anyone, regardless of generation, interested in politics, science and man's future in Space.

The book is a well researched history of how America's shining achievement in Space technology was a mistake, a design of political compromise, constrained federal spending and promised secret military payloads. Frank Lloyd Wright would have told NASA that form must follow function, but in the case of the Shuttle, Wright would have learned that function had not been fully defined.

Final Countdown also gives the reader a look at Space exploration beyond the Shuttle program and how NASA has returned to mission-based designs for selecting the vehicle that will likely carry man back to the Moon and possibly on to Mars.

Beyond the well documented history of the Shuttle itself, author Pat Duggins introduces readers to the personalities and individual career turns that ultimately gave life to the Space Shuttle program. He tells the unlikely story of how the demise of plans for a spy agency's secret space program helped shape the Shuttle. Along with the Shuttle's achievements, the book takes readers through the pain and lessons learned from the disasters of Challenger and Columbia.

In the end, the book serves as a wonderful "Program Guide" to the Final Countdown of the Space Shuttle Program and gives readers a reason to anticipate with excitement the next chapter in the story of manned space flight.
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