> Skip to content
Play sample
  • Published: 18 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241543702
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $36.99

Challenger

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




The definitive, dramatic, minute-by-minute story of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster by New York Times-bestselling author Adam Higginbotham, based on fascinating new archival research and in-depth reporting – a riveting history that reads like a thriller

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

On the morning of 28 January 1986, just seventy-three seconds into flight, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven people on board. Millions around the world witnessed the tragic deaths of the crew, which included 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, a detailed account of the tragedy itself, and into the investigation that followed. It’s a compelling tale of optimism and ingenuity shattered by political cynicism and cost-cutting in the interests of burnishing national prestige; of hubristic ‘go fever’; and of an investigation driven by heroic leakers and whistle-blowers determined to bring the truth to light.

With astonishing clarity and narrative verve, Adam Higginbotham reveals the history of the shuttle program, 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, fascinating science and shocking political infighting, Challenger brings to life a turning point in our history. The result is an even more complex and extraordinary story than any of us remembered – or thought possible.

  • Published: 18 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241543702
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $36.99

About the author

Adam Higginbotham

Adam Higginbotham writes for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, Businessweek, Smithsonian, Men’s Journal, and The Atavist. He began his career in magazines and newspapers in London, where he was the editor-­in-chief of The Face and a contributing editor at The Sunday Telegraph. The author of Midnight in Chernobyl, he lives in New York City.

Also by Adam Higginbotham

See all

Praise for Challenger

There is no let-up in the tension Adam Higginbotham skilfully creates as he uncovers the many missed opportunities to avert the disastrous launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. His remarkable book is testimony to the truth that although technology will sometimes let us down, in the end it is human weakness that creates tragedy and human strength that creates heroism. And like a Greek tragedy you know how it will end, but you cannot stop reading. A truly gripping book

David Omand, author of How Spies Think and How to Survive a Crisis

Enthralling, dramatic and utterly comprehensive. Over a twenty-year history that moves at the pace of a thriller, Adam Higginbotham charts the wide-eyed enthusiasm and optimism of a renewed US space program where anything was possible, but which – over time – was fatally eroded by bureaucratic infighting, political pressure and systemic underfunding. In Higginbotham’s masterly hands, we see the heights and disasters made possible by human ingenuity

Cara McGoogan, author of The Poison Line

A masterly example of how meticulous research and adherence to factual detail can build a narrative of almost unbearable suspense. At the same time, with the outcome known from the beginning, the story has the implacable power of tragic inevitability

Geoff Dyer

Gripping and memorable, a definitive account of an American tragedy

Ed Caesar

A deeply reported, highly compelling, and richly detailed story of how our highest aspirations can turn into tragedy

Paul Caruana Galizia, author of A Death in Malta

Adam Higginbotham is one of the most brilliant reporters of our generation. He has given us another masterpiece in Challenger. Gripping, forensic and unforgettable, it will undoubtedly be one of the best books of the year

Will Storr, author of The Science of Storytelling

Adam Higginbotham has written a gripping, eye-opening, moving, and finely detailed history of not just an infamous disaster but a whole generation of the Space Age. Picking up where Tom Wolfe left off, this book stands as the fascinating sequel to The Right Stuff, mixing together science, politics, and space exploration and providing a unique window into the lives of those Americans who have reached for the stars. Even though you know how the story ends, you'll eagerly turn the beautifully written pages wondering what comes next. Challenger is one of the generation's best non-fiction writers working at the top of his game

Garrett Graff, author of The Only Plane in the Sky and Watergate

Challenger is a masterpiece. The depth and detail in Higginbotham’s research is breathtaking, the picture he paints is textured and vivid but his prose reads like a thriller . . . this book brings together the many threads of the disaster to reveal a modern parable about America at a turning point in history: the gap between the ambitions of its leaders and the reality of what it was. As well as this, it is a story is about human beings: their frailties and dreams, their heroism and weakness and their frustration and suffering as cogs in a machine gone wrong

Peter Apps, author of the Orwell Prize-winning Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen

In a masterful tapestry of science, heroism, and heartbreak, Challenger unfolds the profound narrative of a pivotal moment that reshaped our view of the stars and ourselves. Adam Higginbotham captures the spirit of an era, the weight of ambition, and the indomitable courage of those who dared to reach for the heavens, only to be ensnared by tragedy. A gripping, poignant chronicle that reveals the Challenger disaster in a light never seen before

Eliot Higgins, author of We Are Bellingcat

Deep research, gripping writing and a chilling story. This is an incredible book

Tim Harford, author of How To Make The World Add Up

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, from Napoleon’s decision to attack Russia to the recent Boeing 737 Max debacle

Rachel Slade, New York Times

Dramatic . . . 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"

Andrew Demillo, Independent

No tragedy is more indelible than the space shuttle Challenger disaster . . . a superb diagnosis of one of NASA’s darkest moments . . . 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

Christian Davenport, Washington Post

No book that I’ve reviewed in the past ten years has disturbed me quite like this one. I cried for McAuliffe and her fellow crew members, whose innocent ideals of space exploration were so cruelly exploited. Higginbotham tells this tragic story with superb dramatic instinct — we know what’s going to happen, but feel the suspense nonetheless

Gerard DeGroot, The Times

Devastating and riveting in equal measures

Boris Starling, Daily Telegraph

Artfully told . . . refreshingly even-handed . . . it’s the human element that makes it

Francisco Garcia

Superb . . . authoritative and immediate – scrupulous history which has the ripping compulsion of the best reporting

Alex Diggins, Daily Telegraph

Enthralling . . . Adam Higginbotham's excellent book is a sobering warning of the dangers of what he calls "mankind's overconfidence in his own ingenuity"

Andrew Crumey, Literary Review

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 . . . Our faith in the systems that run our world is really faith in our fellow man—a chilling reality to remember

Emma Sarappo, Atlantic

Both riveting and illuminating

Roger D. Launius, Times Literary Supplement

Challenger will take you to the stars and break your heart at the same time. History may not be the actions of a few ‘Great Men’ but, as Adam Higginbotham relates in gripping detail, it can certainly be shaped by the terrible decisions of a few individuals. Everyone should read this book

Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

A fascinating and superbly researched account of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger soon after take off. A masterly blend of human drama, science and political infighting

Observer

Higginbotham blends meticulous research with accessible prose, making for a profoundly informative book that shows rather than tells . . . Challenger will undoubtedly draw in a range of readers with diverse interests

Amy Shira Teitel, BBC History Magazine.