Earth Below Us
By G. Harry Stine
G. Harry Stine’s Shuttle Down is a standalone near-future science fiction novel, published under his Lee Correy pen name. First serialized in Analog from December 1980 to March 19811, it saw print in mass market paperback form in 19812.
Dateline: Tomorrow AD! The space shuttle Atlantis launches from Vandenberg AFB to deliver a Landsat satellite to orbit. A premature main-engine cut-off leaves the shuttle with insufficient velocity to reach orbit. The shuttle must manage to return to the Earth’s surface, using only the limited propulsion provided by its orbital maneuvering system.
Inconveniently for the shuttle and its crew — Frank King, Jacqueline Hart, Lew Clay, and George “Hap” Hazzard — Landsats live in sun-synchronous polar orbits. Rather than the abundance of potential emergency landing strips an equatorial orbit offers, most of the Earth’s surface under the shuttle’s path is ocean.
With one very small exception: Rapa Nui, also known as Isla de Pascua or Easter Island. Providentially, the island’s runway is long enough that a shuttle can make an emergency landing. Once the Atlantis is down, however, significant logistical challenges present themselves.