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Dragonfly: NASA And The Crisis Aboard Mir Hardcover – December 1, 1998
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(Bryan Burrough's) book will probably become required reading, and entertaining reading, for anyone who wants to understand the dysfunction of (NASA). -- Peter Maas, Washington Post
Burrough ... writes like a dream ... (t)his book - the best of its kind in the past five years - deserves a larger audience than it has received so far. -- Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
Frightening, informative and silkily readable. -- New Yorker Magazine
I'm embarrassed by how much I enjoyed this book... Burrough writes brilliantly... "Dragonfly" is the best account of the interplay of American and Russian cultures to appear in years. -- Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
Mr Burrough has written one of the most absorbing space books in some time -- Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal
He succeeds in spinning a gripping yarn out of his remarkably candid conversations with both countries' Mir crews, managers and flight controllers. -- The New York Times Book Review, Andrew Chaikin
- Publisher : HarperCollins; 1st edition (December 1, 1998)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0887307833
- ISBN-13 : 978-0887307836
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 1.61 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #426,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Very few astronauts wanted to volunteer for this crazy unknown. The few that did were treated like castaways by NASA. Shipped over to Star City, Russia and mostly abandoned, the astronauts began to suffer all forms of mental breakdowns and neurosis. Once aboard MIR, when the space hoopty suffered failure after failure, their mental issues were exacerbated. The MIR was constantly leaking coolant and had numerous power failures. I can't imagine what kind of mold and other toxic garbage was growing in there. A fire almost killed two cosmonauts and one astronaut. A poorly planned docking of Progress causes a decompression that could have killed two cosmonauts and one astronaut. The Russians literally fly by the seat of their pants. It's all about winging it and this puts unbelievable stress on the cosmonauts.
There are a lot of interesting characters that emerge in this book. The astronauts seem maniacally obsessed to get up in space. They're treated like garbage and though many of them have advanced degrees and are smart as hell they continue staying at a place that treats them as expendable. Out of all of the astronauts, Shannon Lucid comes out smelling like a rose. Even though she had an emotional breakdown from being abandoned by NASA in Star City she bucked up and proved her mettle up in the space station. Thagaard, Dunbar, Blaha, Linenger, come across as whiners. I will say that for all the whining Jerry Linenger did he was the only astronaut to have the stones to tell everybody how unsafe MIR is. Frank Culbertson comes across as a typical butt covering NASA yes man, sucking up to George Abbey, and mismanaging the Phase One program every step of the way. In typical NASA fashion, he was promoted to head the ISS program. Haha! What Judy Resnik saw in this guy I'll never know. Sticktime, I'm assuming.
Of course, George Abbey is featured as a Machiavellian character who sends shudders of fear through the astronaut office. The astronauts who sucked up to Abbey are rewarded with plenty of flight assignments. It was well known that Abby had a bias against Air Force pilots and favored Navy pilots. No astronaut wants to be stuck in astronaut purgatory. So consequently, astronauts were doing their best to get into the good graces of Abbey. I found this to be truly pathetic. This management style is awful, and it created turmoil and antagonism in the astronaut ranks.
All in all, this is a great read. It will make you rethink a lot of your assumptions about NASA and the astronaut corps. I also wonder how much we are being kept in the dark about what really goes on up on the ISS. It's amazing what you'll see when NASA's curtain is pulled back and you witness what goes on behind closed doors.
The Russians managers cared much more about getting U.S. money than safety, and about keeping their iron-fisted control over the cosmonauts. The cosmonauts, being paid by their performance, were afraid of making any mistakes, so wouldn't tell the astronauts how anything worked, but wouldn't do anything themselves without permission from the ground. When things did go wrong, the ground controllers would pretend nothing had happened, keeping the Americans in the dark, and later the managers and cosmonauts would blame each other.
NASA managers only seemed to care about keeping Congressional money flowing, maintaining their own power positions, and keeping the Russians from bailing on the ISS program. They couldn't get any experienced astronauts or competent managers to volunteer for this train wreck of a program. Nobody wanted to rock the boat, so looked the other way about proper training and safety. The astronauts that did complain were ignored, and all of them lived in fear of displeasing the one NASA guy who decided who would get to fly shuttle missions, and who wouldn't.
One of the most startling revelations is that this whole ill-conceived program came about only because President George H.W. Bush needed a poll boost in election year 1992, and wanted a impressive sounding announcement to come out of an otherwise lackluster summit meeting with Boris Yeltsin. Ironically, the Clinton adminstration inherited this turkey and also played along, but the bottom line was: neither countries' space programs wanted to have to try to work with each other, nor did the crews. Not surprisingly, this misbegotten program "ran as smoothly as a pig on stilts", as the results on-orbit painfully demonstrated.
Nevertheless, this is an eye-opening, well-written, exciting book that you will enjoy if spaceflight interests you. It must, however, make Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz either want to chew nails or cry.
My only complaint would be that the author didn't stick to chronological order with the missions, but some of that can be explained away by wanting to get the "good" parts up front to hold the readers interest. I still would recommend this one to any fan of space, NASA.
Top reviews from other countries
The author also interviewed a number of people from NASA, including those who were involved and getting insights from others, such as Gene Kranz. It does make you wonder what was going on; given that the Americans were funding the station they had virtually no say and didn't want to 'rock the boat' and endanger the upcoming ISS programme. Not a good idea and terrible for their astronauts who were stuck on Mir.
My one criticism would be that the author rather seems to have it in for Jerry Linenger who comes out of this in a very poor light which I think is wrong. Having read other astronaut accounts and indeed Jerry Linengers' own 'Off the Planet' (excellent) I disagree with this. I would also liked to have seen more about the increments of Thagard and Lucid but I think both (certainly Lucid) were still serving astronauts at the time this was written and maybe this played a part. The author also states that the Director of Flight Crew Ops at the time, and therefore ultimately responsible for crew assignment was a man to be feared and this fits in exactly with what I have read in other accounts.
All in all, a good read and a must read if you are interested in the Russian space program; just take the comments about Linenger with a pinch of salt.
This reads as a script for a movie. Anyone buying the rights? ... I know, the book is better!