Humans in Space

On the 33rd anniversary of the Challenger disaster, our Review of the Week looks at the past, present, and future of human spaceflight

Spaceflight in the Shuttle Era and beyond : redefining humanity’s purpose in space

Neal, Valerie. Yale, 2017
270p index, 9780300206517 $40.00, 9780300227987

Is the United States at the end of the human spaceflight era? This question serves as the overarching framework of this interesting book, which provides a cultural and social history of the Space Shuttle Era (1981–2011). The “Heroic Era” of human spaceflight commenced in the 1960s and became part of the Cold War; during this time, NASA received large amounts of federal funding. The Shuttle Era began with the utilization of less expensive and more routine human spaceflight, with the shuttle serving as a “space truck.” After the 1986 Challenger explosion, the purpose of the shuttle was transformed into a science laboratory vehicle and the builder of a space station. Neal, who chairs the space history department at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, critically recounts the endless cycle of strategic planning at NASA (sometimes by different groups, at the same time) and how this flawed approach never seemed to reach a new vision for moving forward. In 2017, indeed, there is no coherent plan for a future human space program in the United States. This book is one of the best this reviewer has read on the state of space policy and the future of NASA—it is highly recommended.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
J. Z. Kiss, UNC-Greensboro
Subject: Science & Technology – Astronautics & Astronomy
Choice Issue: Dec 2017