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A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space


About The Book

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER “Stunning…A heart-pounding thriller…Challenger is a remarkable book.” —The Atlantic “Superb…Compelling and exhaustively researched.” —The Washington Post“Devastating…A universal story that transcends time.” —The New York Times“Gripping history.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Chernobyl comes the definitive, dramatic, minute-by-minute story of the Challenger disaster, based on fascinating in-depth reporting and new archival research—a riveting history that reads like a thriller.

On January 28, 1986, just seventy-three seconds into flight, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven people on board. Millions of Americans witnessed the tragic deaths of the crew, which included New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. Like the assassination of JFK, the Challenger disaster is a defining moment in twentieth-century history—one that forever changed the way America thought of itself and its optimistic view of the future. Yet the full story of what happened, and why, has never been told.

Based on extensive archival research and metic­ulous, original reporting, Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space follows a handful of central protagonists—including each of the seven members of the doomed crew—through the years leading up to the accident, and offers a detailed account of the tragedy itself and the inves­tigation afterward. It’s a compelling tale of ambition and ingenuity undermined by political cynicism and cost-cutting in the interests of burnishing national prestige; of hubris and heroism; and of an investigation driven by leakers and whistleblowers determined to bring the truth to light. Throughout, there are the ominous warning signs of a tragedy to come, recognized but then ignored, and later hidden from the public.

Higginbotham reveals the history of the shuttle program and the lives of men and women whose stories have been overshadowed by the disaster, as well as the designers, engineers, and test pilots who struggled against the odds to get the first shuttle into space. A masterful blend of riveting human drama and fascinating and absorbing science, Challenger identifies a turning point in history—and brings to life an even more complex and astonishing story than we remember.

About The Author

Peter Eavis

Adam Higginbotham has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, and Smithsonian. He is the author of Midnight in Chernobyl, which was the winner of the William E. Colby Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space. He lives with his family in New York City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (May 14, 2024)
  • Length: 576 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982176617

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Raves and Reviews

“Stunning . . . Challenger is a remarkable book. It manages to be a whodunit that stretches hundreds of pages, a heart-pounding thriller even though readers already know the ending. The passion and ideals at the heart of human spaceflight come through, which only adds to the tragedy of understanding how many chances there were to save the astronauts aboard. Our faith in the systems that run our world is really faith in our fellow man—a chilling reality to remember.” The Atlantic

“Superb . . . In the hands of Higginbotham, the narrative comes to life in a fresh telling fueled by meticulous detail and exacting prose. While familiar, the story is rendered dreamlike so that readers can’t help but hope, as it unfolds page by page, that somehow the outcome this time will be different. . . . A compelling and exhaustively researched chronicle of the calamity that traces its full arc—the evolution of the enabling culture that allowed it, the terrible day itself, and its enduring legacy.” Washington Post

“Higginbotham is an intrepid journalist and skillful storyteller who takes care to humanize the dozens of major and minor players involved in NASA’s many successful, and occasionally catastrophic, space missions. . . . For cynical Americans, disaster buffs, and engineers, Challenger will be a quick, devastating read. In Higginbotham’s deft hands, the human element—sometimes heroic, sometimes cloaked in doublespeak and bluster—shines through the many technical aspects of this story, a constant reminder that every decision was made by people weighing risks versus expediency, their minds distorted by power, money, politics, and yes-men. It’s a universal story that transcends time.” New York Times

“Dramatic . . . Mr. Higginbotham’s prose grows taut as the Challenger liftoff approaches. . . . [A] moving narrative.” Wall Street Journal

“With its emotional scope and exacting resonance, writer Adam Higginbotham has truly crafted the ultimate tribute to the Challenger and its place in space exploration history. . . . Told with a remarkable storytelling flair, Higginbotham's exhaustive volume is a brilliant effort of investigative journalism that stands as a riveting examination of the complex costs of innovation, imagination, political positioning, clashing personalities, mismanagement and a series of fateful internal NASA decisions that partly led to the spacecraft's sudden destruction upon liftoff.”

“Hefty, compelling, and propulsive, Challenger overflows with revelatory details. . . . Higginbotham is a master chronicler of disasters, demonstrating an unflinching ability to pierce through politics, power, and bureaucracies with laser-sharp focus.” —BookPage (starred review)

“Gripping history . . . Higginbotham’s colorful narrative contrasts the eager idealism of Challenger’s crew, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, with the arrogance of NASA honchos who dismissed warnings and casually gambled with the astronauts’ lives. His account of the engineering issues is lucid and meticulous, and his evocative prose conveys both the extraordinary achievement of rocket scientists in harnessing colossal energies with delicate mechanisms and the sudden cataclysms that erupt when the machinery fails. The result is a beguiling saga of the peril and promise of spaceflight.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In clear and accessible language, Higginbotham explains the mechanics of the shuttle and its problems without sacrificing any of the pace that carries readers forward. . . . The book delivers a compelling, comprehensive history of the disaster that exposed, as Higginbotham writes, how ‘the nation’s smartest minds had unwittingly sent seven men and women to their deaths.’” Associated Press

“A deeply researched, fluently written study in miscommunication, hubris, and technological overreach.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Higginbotham’s comprehensive and affecting recounting and explanation illuminates a tragedy that was entirely preventable.” Booklist (starred review)

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