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The Burning Blue

The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA's Challenger Disaster

Kevin Cook

Holt Paperbacks

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ISBN10: 1250838967
ISBN13: 9781250838964

Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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You’ve seen the pictures. You know what happened. Or do you?

On January 28, 1986, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded after blasting off from Cape Canaveral. Christa McAuliffe, America’s “Teacher in Space,” was instantly killed, along with the other six members of the mission. At least that's what most of us remember.

Kevin Cook tells us what really happened on that ill-fated, unforgettable day. He traces the pressures—leading from NASA to the White House—that triggered the fatal order to launch on an ice-cold Florida morning. Cook takes readers inside the shuttle for the agonizing minutes after the explosion, which the astronauts did indeed survive. He uncovers the errors and corner-cutting that led an overconfident space agency to launch a crew that had no chance to escape.

But this is more than a corrective to a now-dimming memory. Centering on McAuliffe, a charmingly down-to-earth civilian on the cusp of history, The Burning Blue animates a colorful cast of characters: a pair of red-hot flyers at the shuttle's controls, the second female and first Jewish astronaut, the second Black astronaut, and the first Asian American and Buddhist in space. Drawing vivid portraits of Christa and the astronauts, Cook makes readers forget the fate they're hurtling toward. With drama, immediacy, and shocking surprises, he reveals the human price the Challenger crew and America paid for politics, capital-P Progress, and the national dream of "reaching for the stars."


Praise for The Burning Blue

“A fast-paced chronicle of the horrific event and its aftermath . . . a vivid, thoroughly researched space history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Using a plethora of primary and secondary sources, including personal interviews and shuttle operation manuals, Cook . . . personalizes a pivotal moment in the history of NASA, space exploration, and the U.S. Readers will find something new even if they are familiar with the Challenger disaster.”—Library Journal

“Cook ramps up tension with well-selected vignettes . . . an informative overview of a preventable tragedy that looms large.”—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Sharon Christa Corrigan was a seventh grader in Framingham, Massachusetts, on May 5, 1961, the day Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space. Christa, as everyone called her, joined classmates to watch the launch...

About the author

Kevin Cook

Kevin Cook is the author of Tommy’s Honor, Ten Innings at Wrigley, Titanic Thompson, and Kitty Genovese. He has written for the New York Times, Mens Journal, GQ, Smithsonian, and many other publications and has appeared on CNN, NPR, and Fox News. An Indiana native, he now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Pamela Marin

Kevin Cook