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Wings in Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle, 1971-2010 1st Edition

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0160868467
ISBN-10: 0160868467
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Editorial Reviews


Aviation Week article-- March, 2011  Posted by Mark Carreau


As Discovery’s astronauts settled onto the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 9 it was inescapably clear the long-running U.S. Space Shuttle Program is in de-orbit prep.

Endeavour and Atlantis are scheduled to fly for the final time within several weeks.

What’s less certain is how the three-decade long flight test program will be judged by its investors, the American public. Will the shuttle’s impressive capabilities be truly missed? Or were the winged orbiters, with their inability to leave low Earth orbit, an expensive detour to missions grander than Apollo’s?

“Wings In Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle,” is a 553-page, firsthand account of the efforts to develop and sustain a reusable spacecraft with the technologies of the sixties and seventies. The effort is focused on the shuttle program’s heritage, operational strategy, engineering innovation and contributions to science, education and as well as its social legacy,
“The shuttle was to be the first commercially successful space transport,” Wings quickly advises with surprising candor. “This impossible leap was not realized, an unrealistic goal that appears patently obvious in retrospect, yet it haunts the history of the shuttle to this day.”

In all, Wings combines contributions from more than 325 men and women whose professional careers were intertwined with the shuttle’s accomplishments and limitations as well as others who were swept up because of the program’s long run and the wide assortment of missions.

The orbiters ushered satellites into space for astronomers, climate researchers, national security interests, planetary scientists and commercial satellite operators. They’ve flown as temporary space stations for biologists, biotechnologists, chemists, medical researchers and physicists. Shuttle crews have salvaged and repaired satellites.

The orbiters played a uniquely visible role in the unification of former Cold War adversaries, strengthened global partnerships with the assembly of the International Space Station and helped to shatter gender, racial and cultural barriers to space flight. On occasion, they’ve introduced the significance of science and math to the classroom.

Wings is the brainchild of Dr. Helen W. Lane, chief nutritionist at the Johnson Space Center and Manager of JSC’s University Research and Affairs Office. Lane was grocery shopping during Discovery’s STS-114 return-to-flight mission in 2005, NASA’s first bid to recover from the Columbia tragedy, when she was stopped by an old friend, a chemical engineer.

Lane recalls the unexpected exchange: “He berated me: NASA never does anything new, just orbits the Earth. Nothing came out of the space shuttle. NASA never does any science, period.”

Lane embraced the criticism as a challenge to present the shuttle story from the insider’s perspective. She found an ally in Wayne Hale, the articulate former NASA shuttle program manager and long-time flight director.

With Lane serving as Editor-in-Chief and Hale as Executive Editor, they enlisted the best and brightest of their colleagues in an effort to present the shuttle story to those among NASA’s stockholders with an appreciation for science and technology.

If the shuttle’s milestones matter not so much to taxpayers in the current trying economic times, they may to the aspiring engineers and historians who wonder how they came about

Perhaps, the “lessons learned” from the shuttle era will help to temper wider expectations as the nation attempts to foster new commercial space transportation capabilities and look beyond the human exploration of the Moon. These will be difficult pursuits.

Published by the Johnson Space Center and the Government Printing Office, Wings In Orbit is scheduled for an April 8 release through major book stores, including and Barnes & Noble, as well as at

 Reviews from Goodreads:

Steve posted four stars on this title in Goodreads and had this to say, "Edited and written by individuals involved in the Shuttle Program, "Wings in Orbit" is one book every space buff must have in their collection. Certainly there are other more technical books on the program. Wings, given the limitations, does a good job of giving an over view of what was accomplished in the 30 year program."

About the Author


Dr. Helen W. Lane is Chief Scientist  for Biological Sciences and Applications Space Life Sciences at NASA/Johnson Space Center and the lead for the Space Life Scineces Academy that focuses on education for the NASA employees as well as outreach for  K-20.  Previously she was Manager of University Research and Affairs for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Dr. Lane has also managed NASA’s Advanced Human Support Technologies Program, which includes innovative work in food science and technologies for extended-duration spaceflight.  She was Acting Director of Technology Transfer Office and branch chief for biomedical operations and research that included the nutrition research laboratory and clinical medicine.



As  NASA’s Chief Nutritionist, she led efforts to define nutritional requirements for healthy crew members during spaceflight. Her research and administrative functions have included setting the nutrition standards for the International Space Station and the joint U.S.- Russian Shuttle-Mir flights. Her research focused on energy and protein requirements as well as space-food nutritional quality. Dr. Lane has also completed clinical and basic science research on selenium and breast cancer.


Dr. Lane received her B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, her M.S. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her Ph.D. from the University of Florida. She attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1994. She served as Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Texas Medical Center from 1977 to 1984 and as Professor of Nutrition at Auburn University from 1984 to 1989. At present she serves as Adjunct Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.


As a registered dietitian, she is active in the American Dietetics Association and a member of the American Society for Nutrition. 






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Product Details

  • Paperback: 565 pages
  • Publisher: US National Aeronautics and Space Admin; 1st edition (April 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0160868467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0160868467
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,196,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By FalconBravo on August 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Good: This is a hefty tome, a textbook-style approach to learning about what the shuttle did both as a vehicle and as a technology demonstrator. It's split into sections listing its not only its flights and missions, but also new techniques for (as an example) applying insulating foam to the External Tank, a list of spinoffs of NASA technology now used for other purposes, and a series of essays written about the program and its legacies. A number of details about its onboard systems, techniques, payloads, and operations are provided, and the book is well-supplied with pictures and mini-interviews with astronauts, engineers and others impacted by the program. As a layman's guide to the space shuttle and its history, it is a varied and technical look at the shuttle. It should appeal to all ages, though younger readers may have more fun looking at the pictures.

The Bad: The biggest objection space aficionados will have with it are the relatively high number of mistakes. For example, the first time I opened the book, I landed on a page showing graphically the assembly of the International Space Station, but the first assembly flight to the ISS was STS-88, not STS-96, and that it launched in 1998, not 1999. There are other mistakes, not many of which an average reader would catch (or care about), but that those who work on the program would catch in a second. For a NASA publication about its own program, such errors are inexcusable and a bit confusing, since anyone with a basic knowledge or interest in the ISS would have caught such a mistake. Why would a book talking about the Space Shuttle's great legacy and important contributions to the world contain such crucial and obvious issues?

The bottom line: obviously written by (or drawn heavily from) engineers, the book is generally a good reference for most people, but that may leave hardcore enthusiasts a bit disappointed (but only a little)
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Format: Paperback
Hi. Really enjoyed the book from an engineering point of view, and it had some nice pictures and diagrams. Bye.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By bicyclezero on September 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a publication designer myself I must criticize Wings in Orbit for looking dated and very much like a text book. The beauty of some historically significant photographs are muddied by the mediocre print quality. The photo on p.88 should be a full bleed 2 page spread (maybe cut the letter from Bush). Instead it is 3x4". Love those chapter intro pages- blank. Red type on a black background is hard to read.

Time and again I hear so much about how the shuttle program and NASA itself is successful only through the great talent and dedication of its workforce. But there are few stories with "feeling" in them. Mostly they are stories of science, engineering and astronautics. Tell me instead about the people who make the tiles. Or the people who install payloads and one of their crazy stories. Something we don't know. Something warming. I thought where this book would be written Wayne Hale and NASA insiders we would get a glimpse at the family of workers who carried the shuttle from design to its final mission.

This book is hardly the salve to soothe the shuttles demise that I thought it would be.
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