Wheels Stop


Wheels Stop

The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, 1986–2011

Rick Houston
Foreword by Jerry Ross

Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight Series

456 pages
34 photographs


December 2013


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May 2021


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eBook (EPUB)
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April 2020


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eBook (PDF)
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December 2013


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About the Book

Humanity’s first reusable spacecraft and the most complex machine ever built, NASA’s Space Shuttle debuted with great promise and as a dependable source of wonder and national pride. But with the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, the whole Space Shuttle program came into question, as did NASA itself, so long an institution that was seemingly above reproach. Wheels Stop tells the stirring story of how, after the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle not only recovered but went on to perform its greatest missions. From the Return to Flight mission of STS-26 in 1988 to the last shuttle mission ever on STS-135 in 2011, Wheels Stop takes readers behind the scenes as the shuttle’s crews begin to mend Cold War tensions with the former Soviet Union, conduct vital research, deploy satellites, repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and assist in constructing the International Space Station. It also tells the heart-wrenching story of the Columbia tragedy and the loss of the magnificent STS-107 crew.

As complex as the shuttle was, the people it carried into orbit were often more so—and this is their story, too. Close encounters with astronauts, flight controllers, and shuttle workers capture the human side of the Space Shuttle’s amazing journey—and invite readers along for the ride.

Author Bio

Rick Houston, a full-time journalist for more than twenty years, is the author of Second to None: The History of the NASCAR Busch Series and Man on a Mission: The David Hilmers Story and a contributor to Footprints in the Dust: The Epic Voyages of Apollo, 1969–1975 (Nebraska, 2010). Jerry Ross, a former astronaut, shares the world record for the most spaceflights flown with seven to his credit. He is the author of Spacewalker.


"[An] enthusiastic portrayal of the heroic age of American space travel."—Publishers Weekly

"Houston focuses on themes and makes extensive (and effective) use of oral histories provided by astronauts and others."—J. Z. Kiss, Choice

"Houston preserves the candid reflections of some who wrote the shuttle's story aloft, and their exultations and confessions are reason enough to fly with them until "wheels stop.""—Air and Space

“When we talk about the Space Shuttle, we talk about the people. Author Rick Houston’s work here takes it a step further. He reaches to the heart and soul of the people.”—Milt Heflin, former lead Space Shuttle flight director and chief of the flight director office

“With the Space Shuttle program now at an end, documenting the amazing thirty-year career of these iconic orbiters holds an untold amount of historical importance. Spaceflight isn’t easy, people pay in blood and sweat to make it happen. Author Rick Houston lends a voice to some of the key people involved in what is not only an American treasure but a global superstar.”—Chris Bergin, managing editor, NASASpaceflight.com

“Rick Houston skillfully recounts the shuttle program from a front row center seat, full of engaging, first person accounts—direct from the flight deck and the vacuum of space during some of the program’s wildest spacewalks. From triumph to tragedy and back again, this book is the next best thing to being there.”—Dr. Scott Parazynski, five-time shuttle astronaut and Everest mountaineer

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Back in the Game
2. Cloak and Dagger, Science on Orbit
3. Hubble Huggers
4. Sleeping with the Enemy
5. A Home on Orbit
6. "The Debris was Talking to Me"
7. We Came Home
8. A Kick in the Pants
9. The End of an Era
10. A Magnificent Machine

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