A dull, poorly written, but thorough history of NASA, which blames the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger not on its O-rings but on the politicians. Whenever there's a technological disaster, there's always going to be somebody who points his finger and says, ""he done it."" While this is a necessary and often useful exercise in a progressive democratic society, it doesn't always make for interesting reading--especially when, as in this case, the finger is pointed at everybody and nobody at the same time. Trento, a reporter for Cable News Network who has been covering the space program for more than 15 years, interviewed every NASA leader and scores of scientists to produce his complicated indictment of politicians who let partisan anxieties interfere with scientific progress. The overall picture is clear enough. Since the glory days of the Apollo space program under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, NASA's hands have been tied by Presidents who have wanted to use the agency as a propaganda tool, and by the Pentagon, which has long wanted control of space for itself. If NASA had been given more money, more time, and more administrative autonomy, concerns over safety procedures, quality-control testing, and continuity of programs would not have been buried by an avalanche of conflicting demands from on high. ""The destruction of the space shuttle Challenger,"" Trento writes, ""is not a story of technological failure--it is a story of political failure."" That is fair enough comment. Unfortunately, in this account, the overall picture of a space agency tottering beneath political pressures is too often lost in the minute depiction of its wobbles. A confusing, unappetizing piece of writing.