The author, a former space engineer with Houston Mission Control for 22 years (his speciality was orbital mechanics), writes about the odd relationship that developed between the U.S. and Russian space programs after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian program, starved for funds, often at war with itself, managed to get by on a wing and a prayer (and considerable tinkering and luck), while NASA poured money into Russia, made absurd apologies for Russian screwups and missed deadlines, and covered up a lot of what went wrong on Mir and International Space Station flights. In many ways, Russia continued to behave as if the Cold War was still on: jealously guarding photocopiers, refusing to share information with American astronauts in orbit, insisting on carrying guns on every mission(!). Individually, astronauts, cosmonauts, and engineers got along famously across the borders (well, there was the sexual harassment of Western female astronauts), but political considerations repeatedly trumped safety, engineering, and other values. It's a bracing and depressing tale by an ever-hopeful science journalist.
This report prepared by David Loftus