A rousing account of the space shuttle Columbia and its stalwart crew, Young and Crippen--bulked out to book length with assorted material on the history of ballooning, the Wright Brothers, rocketry, jet and space flight. The first few chapters are on the draggy side--what with toe-curling (""That was one fantastic ride"") quotes, biographical details of astronauts past and present, statistics on hours of training and cockpit equipment. The pace picks up with the building of the space shuttle and the ""Faustean"" bargain that made it possible. (One-third of future shuttle flights will be for military purposes.) Space buffs who followed the shuttle's technical tribulations will find a chapter devoted to those infernal tiles (designed of silica fibers that can shed heat ""so rapidly that a tile can be held under a blowtorch and then picked up immediately with the bare hand""). The last chapters begin with the final exhilarating ""on the money"" descent and landing, and conclude with future plans. You-are-there-again--vividly.