This book would not have been possible without the assistance of a number of individuals far more knowledgeable than I on the intricacies of the Solid Rocket Boosters, Shuttle main engines, External Tank fuelling procedures, crew training activities and, of course, the operation of the orbiter's multi-million-dollar toilet. I must thank the ever-patient Clive Horwood of Praxis for his support and advice, David Harland for reviewing each chapter, pointing out my mistakes and sharpening up the text, and to the project's copy editor, Alex Whyte.

I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Ed Hengeveld for 'saving my bacon' by kindly giving up his time to supply high-quality illustrations for this book from his own extensive collection. Had it not been for his efforts, and David Harland's tireless work to prepare illustrations for final production, this project would not have reached fruition.

Several astronauts who have flown Columbia have provided fascinating insights into what they all agree was an incredible machine and without doubt the flagship of the Shuttle fleet. Thanks go to Gordon Fullerton and Vance Brand and the late Rick Husband for taking the time to speak with me over the telephone, and to Kacy Carraway, Roberta Ross and Beth Hagenauer of NASA for arranging the interviews.

My interest in space has spanned two decades and might not have lasted so long if not for a remarkable group of friends at the Midlands Spaceflight Society. Andy Salmon has proved to be a goldmine of space information, with the infectious enthusiasm of a true expert in his field, while Rob and Jill Wood have shared more facts about astronauts and cosmonauts with me over the years than I suspect even the astronauts and cosmonauts themselves know! None of my work would have seen the light of day were it not for Mike Bryce, editor of the society's newsletter, Capcom.

To each of them, I extend my thanks. My family have constantly supported my interest and I must thank my fiancee, Michelle Chawner, for her endless love and enthusiasm; it is to her, for making all this possible, that I would like to dedicate this book. Additional love and thanks go to my parents, Marilyn and Tim Evans, to Sandie Dearn and Ken Jackson, to Malcolm Chawner and Helen Bradford and, of course, to our golden retriever, Rosie.

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