A couple of days ago, I finished reading Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts Who Flew Her by Rowland White. Having read and enjoyed two of his books on the Falklands War, I was looking forward to reading Into the Black and I wasn’t disappointed. Rowland goes beyond the subtitle of the book; he not only tells the story of Columbia’s first launch, he tells the story of her first crew, the development of the Space Shuttle Program, and places the program within the context of previous programs. He weaves the stories of Astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, NASA’s programs, the aborted US Air Force manned space program, and top secret intelligence satellites into a compelling tale of the development of the Shuttle program through Columbia’s first launch and mission in space. What I really enjoyed was how White told the story through the eyes of the astronauts, engineers, and some of the administrators who worked on the program. At first, those separate threads don’t seem to be related, but as the Shuttle program progresses and STS-1 takes place, everything comes together and you learn why White followed these threads earlier. This book tells, as the subtitle says, an extraordinary story – and does it in an extraordinary way.
The book is a window into the astronauts’ experiences, what it took to make the Space Shuttle a reality, how the US Government’s space policy changed over time, and what it took to put Columbia into space for the first time and bring her and her crew back home. I had a hard time putting it down and was disappointed when I was finished – I would have loved for it to keep on telling the tales of future missions. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Into the Black and heartily recommend it for anyone, not just those interested in space.