Dennis R. Jenkins and I have just published a new book, Coming Home: Reentry and Recovery from Space, issued as NASA Special Publication-2011-593. It’s available now, free as a downloadable a PDF here.
One of the most difficult tasks with which aerospace engineers have contended is how to transit the atmosphere during return to Earth. Coming home after a flight into space has involved over the years critical contributions from engineers working in aerodynamics, thermal protection, guidance and control, stability, propulsion, and landing systems. Without this base of fundamental and applied research the capability to fly into space would not exist. NASA researchers over the years have been central to the successful methodologies employed to bring spacecraft home successfully.
Accordingly, this study represents a means of highlighting the myriad technological developments that made possible the safe reentry and return from space and landing on Earth. This story extends back at least to the work of Walter Hohmann and Eugen Sänger in Germany in the 1920s and involved numerous aerospace engineers at the NACA/NASA Langley, Lewis, and Ames laboratories. For example, researchers such as H. Julian Allen and Alfred J. Eggers at Ames pioneered blunt body reentry techniques and ablative thermal protection systems in the 1950s, while Francis M. Rogallo at Langley developed creative parasail concepts that informed the development of the recovery systems of numerous reentry vehicles.
This volume tells in a compelling, sophisticated, and technically sound manner the story of reentry and recovery from space in the United States for an audience that understands little about the evolution of flight technology. Bits and pieces of this history exist in various disparate publications, but the critical role played by the researchers in developing the concepts that made possible a return to Earth have been largely overlooked. Moreover, the challenges, mystery, and outcomes wrestled with by those in programs that required safe reentry and return to Earth offer object lessons in how earlier generations of engineers sought optimal solutions and made trade-offs.
With the effort to retire the Space Shuttle and replace it with a new vehicle that is presently underway, along with NASA’s probable return to a capsule concept for spaceflight, this work offers a unique perspective on the history of this important technology and its place in the larger story of spaceflight. It serves as a means of exploring what has gone before and the lessons that may be learned from those earlier efforts.
The technologies for the reentry and recovery from space might change over time, but the challenge remains one of the most important and vexing in the rigorous efforts to bring spacecraft and their crews and cargo home successfully.
Additional e-book versions coming soon!