|Rowland White's book Into The Black launches on Tuesday, April 19th, days after the 35th anniversary of Columbia's iconic first flight. Photo Credit: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster|
This Space Available was fortunate to interview White about Into The Black. Note: minor book spoilers included.
This Space Available: When space buffs think of STS-1 - coming up on its 35th anniversary - they hearken back to the launch, those iconic "Hail Columbia!" moments from the IMAX film, etc., those things that are easily memorable. Your book delves into early shuttle program development, the very real limitations of the system, and how the space intelligence community intersected with the launch/key mission events. Why did you take this approach to the STS-1 story? You could have easily just rehashed the mission.
Rowland White: I’m not sure anyone have been interested if I’d just rehashed the mission. People need to care about the outcome of a story and so it was important to remind readers of what was special about the Shuttle. I wanted to position Columbia as the last great achievement of NASA’s Apollo generation, and as the high watermark of the post-war US aerospace industry. But as I researched the book, what had started out as a celebration of the Shuttle turned into a real-life thriller as I discovered the little-known military and intelligence side of the story.
TSA: People tend to associate STS-1 with Young and Crippen, but Into The Black discusses major players that perhaps haven't gotten as much attention in the shuttle story in depth - figures such as Fred Haise, Richard Truly, Gordon Fullerton, and Joe Engle, for example. These astronauts were intimately involved with space shuttle development. Why was it important, to you, to profile these individuals in such depth (not just giving them a mention)?
|NASA photo, April 13, 1981. Columbia in Earth orbit, payload bay doors opened. Note the missing pieces of thermal tile on the rounded OMS pods. These missing pieces would cause much anxiety on the ground. This development is examined in White's book.|
TSA: Of course, one of the central "characters" in the book is John W. Young, veteran astronaut and STS-1 commander. This is someone who has always been an enigmatic, laconic, not exactly "public" figure, but his personality is very well-integrated into the narrative. How were you able to capture his "voice"? That couldn't have been an easy task!
TSA: STS-1 may have been one of the riskiest flights in spaceflight history (a human-helmed mission testing a never-before-flown vehicle with some known potential issues). Yet many factors, discussed in Into The Black, ensured the crew returned safely (and served as a balm to those on the ground). Do you think NASA would fly a mission such as STS-1 ever again? Why, or why not?
Many thanks to Rowland White for his participation. Into The Black, again, is available from Touchstone Books on April 19th, and is $29.99.