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I would have read this novel in the mid to late 1990s to the early 2000s. I believe it would have been before 2003 and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The story revolves around a space shuttle (I believe it was the Columbia) being heavily modified and used as a deep space ship to populate/travel to another planet.

I believe the story starts off which a shuttle accident similar to the Columbia disaster where a space shuttle breaks up in re-entry. The female protagonist has to evacuate the shuttle by using an escape device which was effectively a pole out of the shuttle that pushed her body past the rear engines and tail fins.

I believe a natural disaster of some kind is going to happen that will destroy life on earth. As such another shuttle is modified for a deep space journey.

The female protagonist is joined by a white haired air force Colonel who ultimately goes crazy on the journey and she has to knock him out/kill him.

I do not remember if they get to another planet or not.

I believe the escape system used in the opening incident was real and the book was heavily researched and tried to be as scientifically accurate as it could be

1 Answer 1

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Could be Titan by Stephen Baxter

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Plot summary

The dream begins with a disaster. Given the task of dismantling NASA's aging shuttle program after a horrifying re-entry crash, Paula Benecerraf comes up with a bold plan to keep America in space using existing technology. Possible signs of organic life have been found on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Inspired by this, Benecerraf assembles an unlikely group of visionaries for a dinner party in Houston, and presents them with a mission proposal so preposterous, yet so plausible, that it renders them speechless--then sets them arguing far into the night.

And so begins a new era in space exploration.

The crew includes an aging NASA flyboy; a JPL "double-dome" genius obsessed with extraterrestrial life; a pair of Skylab astronauts who became secret lovers in orbit; and Paula herself, the first grandmother to leave the inner solar system.

The ship is patched together from the remnants of fifty years of spaceflight: Mercury and Gemini hardware, a stripped-down Columbia-class shuttle, a Skylab hab module, a couple of Apollo capsules, and a battery of refurbished F-1 engines--plus some surplus Soviet Topaz nuclears.

The destination is Titan.

The billion-mile voyage, the most stupendous in human history, takes most of a decade, and includes a "slingshot" transit of Venus, a catastrophic solar storm, and a constant struggle to keep the ailing systems up and the tiny crew together. Back home, it is a decade that will see the USA dismantled, the Earth engulfed in environmental collapse, and the Chinese conquering space with disastrous results for the human race.

But it is on the icy surface of Titan itself that the true adventure begins. For it is here, in the orange methane slush, under the awesome rings of Saturn, that the Tartarus astronauts are to discover the secret of life's origins, and reach for a human destiny beyond their wildest dreams.

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    Another recent Story-ID question that threw up Titan for additional details.
    – Jontia
    Jul 5, 2022 at 8:16
  • This sounds a lot like Saturn Run. Jul 5, 2022 at 10:42
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    @MadPhysicist I don't think so. Saturn Run (which I honestly thought no one other than myself had ever read) focused on a well-planned but hastily prepared mission in a future with a strong space program, and Earth is totally fine in the end... Jul 5, 2022 at 16:15
  • @MichaelStachowsky Agree. And Saturn Run is a fantastic book. Jul 5, 2022 at 16:53
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    This answer and the answer to the other question point to Titan being the book I was looking for
    – A.Steer
    Jul 5, 2022 at 21:04

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