A New History of the Space Shuttle
328 pp., 6 x 9 in, 33 b&w illus.
- Published: December 26, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A captivating history of NASA's Space Transportation System—the space shuttle—chronicling the inevitable failures of a doomed design.
In Dark Star, Matthew Hersch challenges the existing narrative of the most significant human space program of the last 50 years, NASA's space shuttle. He begins with the origins of the space shuttle: a century-long effort to develop a low-cost, reusable, rocket-powered airplane to militarize and commercialize space travel, which Hersch explains was built the wrong way, at the wrong time, and for all the wrong reasons. Describing the unique circumstances that led to the space shuttle's creation by President Richard Nixon's administration in 1972 and its subsequent flights from 1981 through 2011, Hersch illustrates how the space shuttle was doomed from the start.
While most historians have accepted the view that the space shuttle's fatal accidents—including the 1986 Challenger explosion—resulted from deficiencies in NASA's management culture that lulled engineers into a false confidence in the craft, Dark Star reveals the widespread understanding that the shuttle was predestined for failure as a technology demonstrator. The vehicle was intended only to give the United States the appearance of a viable human spaceflight program until funds became available to eliminate its obvious flaws. Hersch's work seeks to answer the perilous questions of technological choice that confront every generation, and it is a critical read for anyone interested in how we can create a better world through the things we build.
“Based on years of research, Hersch offers a critical analysis of the complex and, he argues, flawed technological system that was the space shuttle. A lesson for both historians and engineers.”
Margaret Weitekamp, Curator, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
“In our own age of tech prophets and soaring futurism, Dark Star offers a much-needed cautionary tale about the promises, perils, and lost opportunities of our technological infatuations.”
Edward Jones-Imhotep, Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of Toronto; author of The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War (The MIT Press)
“In this comprehensive book, Hersch shows how the flawed shuttle design emerged from the spaceplane enthusiasm and test pilot culture of NASA. The design was a compromise with the Air Force, which satisfied nobody.”
Daniel Hastings, former head of the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department