Cook brings the moment vividly to mind ... Cook’s crisply crafted journalism and perceptive take on the personalities that shaped the Challenger mission – along with NASA’s struggles and failures – make for a riveting narrative and complex cross-weave of themes ... Celebrity, bureaucracy, political will, industrial design and unthinkable doom: the ingredients that propel this book like the liquid hydrogen and oxygen that fueled Challenger’s rocketry are superbly balanced in Cook’s telling ... Much has been written about Challenger, while official investigations have probed it in depth. Cook drills into this body of research with keen focus, freshly sourcing via interviews with scientists, astronauts, crew members’ families and NASA records. The book speaks with an authority belied by its compact 200-plus pages, while the lean efficiency of Cook’s writing connects us to the backstory and character of the crew members without sentimentalizing them, along with the crucial forensic details ... If anything, Cook’s revelatory reconstruction of Challenger’s final moments, written from the point of view of the seven-member crew, transforms our sense of the disaster from abstraction to reality ... unforgettable.
Unlike other books about the Challenger disaster that exclusively focus on the incident, this is a respectful biographical account of one of the non-astronauts on board. Using a plethora of primary and secondary sources, including personal interviews and shuttle operation manuals, Cook puts together the story of McAuliffe’s life, why she wanted to go into space, and what happened after the incident. While Cook does offer details on the disaster and the commission to investigate it, the book’s primary focus is the crew members and their families, which personalizes a pivotal moment in the history of NASA, space exploration, and the U.S. ... A quick biographical account, placing the space shuttle in historical context, that will have YA crossover appeal. Readers will find something new even if they are familiar with the Challenger disaster.
Cook gives readers insight into the individuals involved, though he focuses on McAuliffe, a bright, personable representative of her profession, and of civilians in general, whose place on the crew was primarily for publicity purposes. While this is clearly and effectively written, there is no dramatic scoop revealed about the accident, though it will surely reignite interest in the topic.