Happy Book Birthday to Come Fly with Us!

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Birthday to Come Fly with Us: NASA’s Payload Specialist Program (Nebraska, 2019) by Melvin Croft and John Youskauskas.

About the Book:

Come Fly with Us is the story of an elite group of space travelers who flew as members of many space shuttle crews from pre-Challenger days to Columbia in 2003. Not part of the regular NASA astronaut corps, these professionals known as “payload specialists” came from a wide variety of backgrounds and were chosen for an equally wide variety of scientific, political, and national security reasons. Melvin Croft and John Youskauskas focus on this special fraternity of spacefarers and their individual reflections on living and working in space. Relatively unknown to the public and often flying only single missions, these payload specialists give the reader an unusual perspective on the experience of human spaceflight. The authors also bring to light NASA’s struggle to integrate the wide-ranging personalities and professions of these men and women into the professional astronaut ranks.

While Come Fly with Us relates the experiences of the payload specialists up to and including the Challenger tragedy, the authors also detail the later high-profile flights of a select few, including Barbara Morgan, John Glenn (who returned to space at the age of seventy-seven), and Ilan Ramon of Israel aboard Columbia on its final, fatal flight, STS-107.


“Well-researched. . . . Space-travel fans will delight in myriad details and copious interviews.”—Publishers Weekly

“An interesting perspective and stands as a welcome addition to space-shuttle history.”—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

Interview on The Space Show

“No history of the space shuttle program could ever be considered complete without exploring the many accomplishments of the payload specialists. This consistently fascinating book is packed from start to finish with previously untold and sometimes controversial stories that delve into an intriguing aspect of life and work aboard America’s space shuttles. The authors have done a magnificent job.”—Rick Houston, space historian and coauthor of Go, Flight!: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, 1965–1992

“I’m surprised that nobody has written a book about the payload specialist program before now. This program sponsored some outstanding on-orbit scientific research that was conducted by a truly diverse and dedicated group of extraordinary people. This is a great story of the shuttle era, extremely well researched and told.”—Col. Jerry L. Ross, USAF (Ret.), NASA astronaut and author of Spacewalker

“Croft and Youskauskas have done an admirable job in capturing and conveying to readers the characters and roles of the many actors in summarizing the importance of their accomplishments, both in the context of their own time and beyond.”—Dr. Rick Sturdevant, Deputy Director of History, Air Force Space Command HQ

On the Blog:

On Twitter:

A Word From the Authors:

Come Fly With Us has made 2019 an exciting and fulfilling year for us. We gave a well-received presentation and book signing at SpaceFest X in August. Reviews of the book, as well as personal feedback from friends and peers, have been overwhelmingly positive! Attendee Lloyd Franklin shared on Facebook, “Greatly enjoyed meeting John Youskauskas and Melvin Croft, and the excellent presentation they gave at Spacefest. I mentioned to John how I also applied to become a Payload Specialist on the Shuttle, responding to the Hughes flyer (along with 600 other Hughes engineers), and while I was not selected, I was proud of the four employees who were, having worked closely with two of them.”

Payload Specialist Loren Acton shared “Super book! I am particularly interested in the early chapters about arguments over the PS program. A lot of this is new to me. Thanks ever so much for letting me contribute to the project, a hunk of history that needed recording.” The Florida Reviewer wrote: “Great book on some little-known space history. They’ve done wonderful research and the writing is fabulous. A must have for any space enthusiast’s library.”

It was a true honor to be able to interview so many of the space shuttle-era payload specialists and tell their stories. Scientists and engineers flying on commercial space vehicles will soon become routine, and this chapter of spaceflight history will continue on the shoulders of these giants.

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