“NASA Space Shuttle: 40th Anniversary” by Piers Bizony (Motorbooks, 192 pages, $50)
NASA’s Space Transportation System — aka its space shuttle fleet — was retired in 2011, its four then-remaining orbiters mothballed and located to museums. But here, on the 40th anniversary of the program, aerospace historian Piers Bizony offers “NASA Space Shuttle,” a compelling and engrossing large-format photographic and textual journey from departure to denouement.
Aided by essays from former NSA chief historian Roger Launius, Bizony’s pictorial masterwork takes us from the inception of the program and its first launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its final descent. In between, shuttle efforts including the Hubble telescope and International Space Station, the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia, and the literal nuts and bolts of the program are exquisitely laid out in an approachable, unique documentation of this important epoch of U.S. history.
As with Bizony’s 2020 “The Art of NASA: The Illustrations That Sold the Missions,” it is the photos that drive the narrative. Meticulously chosen from NASA’s archives, full-color plates show intricate details from the inner workings of the shuttles and those who manned them, to the contrails of liftoff. In those details, the author leaves no facet unexamined: Missions, equipment and emotions alike are rendered in an engaging illustrated tutorial.
Competently organized into four sections — “building the bird,” “loss and recovery,” “ending an era” and “honor and legacy” — “NASA Space Shuttle: 40th Anniversary” offers both an accessible look into the past and a glimpse of our future.