Riding Rockets
The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut
Mike Mullane

Hardcover/352 pages
ISBN: 0743276825
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"In chilling detail, Mullane re-creates the final moments inside the Challenger…"

"This book is about extraordinary achievements by a person who claims not to be gifted…"

Riding Rockets by former astronaut Mike Mullane is a timely release. Mullane claims in his memoir that the astronauts and teacher aboard the Challenger twenty years ago, as well as those in the Columbia disaster three years ago, could have survived if not for NASA’s “deplorable leadership” and “needless risks.” He states that he felt comforted by the fact that the death of those on board the Challenger was “mercifully quick.” But when NASA’s investigation was complete, it became clear to him that the passengers were conscious for two and a half minutes during its descent to earth and not the thirty seconds NASA officials maintain.

In chilling detail, Mullane re-creates the final moments inside the Challenger before it crashed into the ocean and suggests its passengers could have survived if NASA had installed an in-flight escape system. When John Glenn and Neil Armstrong flew into space their capsules included escape rockets and parachutes. But the “new shuttle era” possesses “no in-flight escape system whatsoever.”

Mullane was selected on February 1, 1979 with thirty-four others to become the first astronauts of NASA’s space shuttle-era. He tells his story in a conversational style, as if sitting on the porch looking up at the stars in his hometown of Albuquerque. He recounts how he built and fired rockets in New Mexico when he was a young man, and how as a teenager he flew solo into the 600-foot-deep Rio Grande River Gorge. He is candid about his infatuation with fellow astronaut Judy Resnik who died aboard the Challenger. He is also candid about his selfishness, his sexist attitude against female astronauts and his personal guilt for not disclosing the deficiencies in NASA’s shuttle program.

This book is about extraordinary achievements by a person who claims not to be gifted; rather he claims he was motivated by the sheer determination to fly. Mullane flew in three space missions before retiring from NASA. His humorous narrative helps the reader experience the wonder of orbiting the earth and to understand complex, technical information about rockets and the space program.

I speculate that after the Columbia’s fiery destruction three years ago Mullane, who is currently a professional speaker on leadership, decided to release a book about NASA’s weaknesses and flaws in time for the Challenger’s disaster twentieth anniversary. In the epilogue, Mullane points to the Columbia’s investigative report that “read remarkably like the Challenger report.” He claims the seven-person crew in the Columbia could have survived if NASA had not decided against a space walk to the Atlantis shuttle.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla