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Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, 1986-2011 (Outward Odyssey: A People's History of S) Hardcover – December 1, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Leave aside debates about its costliness and riskiness. From an astronaut’s perspective, flying the space shuttle was a fantastic experience. This work, a set of accounts of those experiences, runs from the 1988 resumption of the shuttle missions after the Challenger explosion to the final one in 2011. Houston interviews many of the people who boarded a shuttle in this period; culls their ­memoirs, such as Jerry Linenger’s Off the Planet (2000); and details their career paths into the astronaut corps. A personal rather than technological portrait of the shuttle emerges, with astronauts’ feelings about their engagement with shuttle technology, rather than the technology itself, receiving primary emphasis. In the text, that engagement emerges in descriptions of training for complicated missions, such as those that kept the Hubble Space Shuttle in operation, and in reflections on the view of Earth from space. And since in these years rendezvous with space stations required training with cosmonauts, Houston’s interviewees express their attitudes about learning Russian and cooperating with their former space-race rivals. Providing vicarious access to astronauts, Houston will attract the spaceflight set. --Gilbert Taylor


“When we talk about the Space Shuttle, we talk about the people. Author Rick Houston’s work here takes it a step further. He reaches to the heart and soul of the people.”—Milt Heflin, former lead Space Shuttle flight director and chief of the flight director office
(Milt Heflin 2013-03-05)

“With the Space Shuttle program now at an end, documenting the amazing thirty-year career of these iconic orbiters holds an untold amount of historical importance. Spaceflight isn’t easy, people pay in blood and sweat to make it happen. Author Rick Houston lends a voice to some of the key people involved in what is not only an American treasure but a global superstar.”—Chris Bergin, managing editor, NASASpaceflight.com
(Chris Bergin 2013-03-05)

"[An] enthusiastic portrayal of the heroic age of American space travel."—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"Houston focuses on themes and makes extensive (and effective) use of oral histories provided by astronauts and others."—J. Z. Kiss, CHOICE
(J. Z. Kiss CHOICE 2014-06-01)

"Houston preserves the candid reflections of some who wrote the shuttle's story aloft, and their exultations and confessions are reason enough to fly with them until "wheels stop.""—Air and Space
(Air and Space)

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Product Details

  • Series: Outward Odyssey: A People's History of S
  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (December 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803235348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803235342
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Terry Sunday TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As one of the titles in the University of Nebraska Press' outstanding "Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight" series, Rick Houston's "Wheels Stop" was bound to be a good book, as are all the books in the series. And it definitely is.

But it's a little different than many other spaceflight books. Mr. Houston does not exhaustively cover in great detail all of the Space Shuttle flights between the 1988 STS-26 return-to-flight mission after the Challenger disaster and the final flight of the program with STS-135 in 2011. Rather, in a fast-paced, highly readable style, he presents a fascinating collection of oral-history-type anecdotes based on his extensive interviews with astronauts, program managers, technicians, administrators and ground-support engineers who were involved in those flights, all organized within a relatively loose structure of program and flight events. His story is not chronological, except in the broadest sense. Nor are his mission descriptions strictly sequential. He jumps around quite a bit as he follows the careers of astronauts or the conduct of related missions, such as the Hubble repair and servicing flights. Some missions get a great deal of coverage, while others he mentions barely in passing or not at all. Many missions get just a single anecdote from a single participant. If it sounds a bit chaotic, it is.

But it works. "Wheels Stop" contains a wealth of new, up-close-and-personal information about the Space Shuttle, its crews and its missions, much of which I have never seen in print before. When I finished this volume, I felt I had really gotten inside the heads of many of the people who worked to keep the world's premier manned spacecraft flying its incredible missions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the fourth book I’ve read in the excellent “People’s History of Spaceflight Series,” the prior books covering Projects Gemini, through Apollo, ands finally, Skylab. “Wheels Stop,” familiar to space-watchers as the final call heard from Mission Control at the conclusion of a Shuttle mission, is a solid addition to the series, covering the highlights of the Space Shuttle program from 1986 to 2011.

I have to say up front—and as you might suspect—due to the nature of the Shuttle program, much of the narrative is a bit less thrilling than, say, the books covering the exploits of the Apollo program. Having said that, I have to praise author Rick Houston for doing a fine job. It’s no easy feat to summarize twenty five year’s worth of shuttle flights in a single volume. (What should be highlighted? What should be left out? Who should be specifically mentioned?) I think Houston handled it about as well as anyone could, deftly weaving together many personal stories gathered in dozens of interviews with the astronauts and engineers behind the program.

A trap for this book could have been to approach 25 years’ worth of shuttle missions sequentially, which might have been a recipe for a plodding—even boring—narrative. Houston avoids this by delivering a non-sequential format focused instead on major themes: missions to Mir, Hubble Telescope servicing missions, and assembly of the International Space Station. And, of course, the devastating loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

I’d say the the most compelling sections of the book are those that deal with the loss of Columbia and the subsequent “Return to Flight,” as it was known to program insiders.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The latest addition to the Outward Odyssey family of books is entitled "Wheels Stop." Recruited by the prolific space author and Outward Odyssey series editor Colin Burgess, Rick Houston's contribution focuses on the space shuttle program from the period just after the Challenger disaster through to it's sad but timely completion with STS-135 in 2011.
Largely through the interview process, author Houston was able spend some quality time with many of the key participants in the program....not just the astronauts, but many of the behind-the-scenes and unsung heroes who helped to make it all happen.
As a space enthusiast/collector, my interest is mainly in books. Patches, pins, photos, covers. etc. are interesting, but I like the education and entertainment value that a good book can provide. "Wheels Stop" offers that in spades! While reading it, I learned something new with every turn of a page.
The parts of the book I enjoyed the most were the sections on the deployment, repair and maintenance of the Hubble Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station. The very dangerous and exacting spacewalks required to accomplish those tasks are described in detail by the astronauts who performed them. During down-time (of which there was very little on the shuttle) the astronauts got to be space tourists. Almost universally, they describe how incredibly beautiful and fragile our planet appears from orbit, and when they look the other way, the sensations they felt looking out into the vastness of space.
After reading "Wheels Stop;" I have a much greater appreciation for what a truly marvelous machine the space shuttle orbiter was, for all that was accomplished in the 30 years that she flew, for all the talented and dedicated people support people on the ground, and for those who took her to space.
If you are at all interested in spaceflight, "Wheels Stop" needs to be on your bookshelf.
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